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A Case for Breaching Dams

by Jim Jones
Moscow-Pullman Daily News, May 8, 2020

Graphic: Survival of juvenile salmon from the Washington/Idaho border to beyond Bonneville Dam has averaged around 50% survival.  In other words, half of them die while migrating through the federal hydropower system. In the 1930s, the New Deal government under FDR recognized the potential of hydroelectric power in the Pacific Northwest. It envisioned opening up new agricultural lands and providing opportunities fueled by this reliable, inexpensive power supply. Thus, the corps of Engineers began a decades-long process of damming rivers throughout the region (capped by its crowning achievement -- Grand Coulee Dam) and turning their management over to the Bonneville Power Administration. The program worked and our region has thrived. It’s been a wonderful place to prosper.

Towards the latter part of the century, however, we realized that we had ignored a major environmental issue with the damming of these rivers. Huge numbers of salmon and steelhead were lost due to their inability to migrate to/from their spawning areas in the Columbia and Snake River systems.

Over time, other energy sources have changed the landscape of power supply across the western U.S. Wind, solar and natural gas have combined to be very competitive and much less expensive than hydropower. Major customers are turning to these alternatives in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Even California, a longtime recipient of BPA supplemental power, is not renewing BPA contracts at $0.36/megawatt hour when they can pay $0.22 on the open market. Competitive rates combined with increasing maintenance demands on an aging system and legal obligations for fish and wildlife recovery (which have been unsuccessful) have put the BPA in debt $15 billion.

The environmental community makes a very strong case for breaching the four Snake River dams: 1) none of them contribute to flood control, and 2) suspending maintenance of these dams would lower BPA overhead. Importantly, it would reduce barriers to Salmon/Steelhead migration into Idaho and aid in regional fish recovery.

Jim Jones, Worley
A Case for Breaching Dams
Moscow-Pullman Daily News, May 8, 2020

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