the film
Commentaries and editorials

Breaching Snake River Dams Doesn’t Add Up
for People or Salmon

by Steve Appel, Washington Farm Bureau
March 13, 2000

As they did recently, anti-dam activists can dress up in salmon costumes and parade in front of the White House all they want. But that doesn’t change the fact that the benefits of breaching dams on the lower Snake River are minimal, at best, while the costs would stretch into the next century.

In the first place, the National Marine Fisheries Service has listed 12 runs of salmon in Washington as threatened or endangered. Only four of those runs spawn above the four Snake River dams. The other eight runs would not benefit from breaching the dams.

Secondly, last summer, NMFS released a biological study that showed only an 11 percent reduction in the risk to the four Snake River runs if the dams are breached. The agency then qualified its opinion by saying that the most recent data on salmon migration indicate there may be no advantage to breaching over non-breaching alternatives.

In December, the Army Corps of Engineers released a report that said breaching the dams offered a "moderate" reduction in the risk to Snake River salmon, while non-breaching alternatives offered a "slight" reduction. The Corps manager who headed the study summed up the report for the media by describing the results as "unclear."

The costs of breaching, however, are very clear.

Breaching the dams would eliminate the production of hydroelectric power and the barging of agricultural products and other goods between Lewiston, Idaho, and Pasco, Wash. It would also dry up about 35,000 acres of productive farmland and force river communities to re-engineer their water systems.

The Corps of Engineers estimates that breaching the dams would cost about $1 billion. But the Corps says the total cost – including new generating plants to replace the lost hydroelectric power, new roads and railways to handle shipping, and 2,000 lost jobs -- would be nearly $360 million a year.

The Corps estimates the economic benefits at $113 million a year, but most of that -- $82 million – assumes that Californians will flock to the region to go rafting and fishing. If not, the boost in tourism would be about $15 million.

Still, even using the most optimistic economic figures, the net cost of breaching the dams would be $247 million a year – for the next 100 years.

That’s a cost of nearly $25 billion to go from a "slight" reduction of risk to a "moderate" reduction of risk for only four of 12 runs of salmon.

My great-great-great grandchildren will still be paying the price if we breach the dams, with no firm scientific evidence that it would bring back the salmon.

There are also environmental costs to breaching the dams that the anti-dam forces want us to ignore.

According to the Corps of Engineers, breaching the dams would release up to 150 million tons of sediment. This sediment would kill fish downriver, bury salmon spawning areas, and clog municipal water systems.

It would take five to 10 years for all the silt, which contains contaminants like DDT, dioxin and manganese, to settle behind McNary Dam, and the river would need to be dredged to maintain barging as far as Pasco.

According to the Corps, the region would also need to build six new air-polluting fossil-fuel generating plants – three in Eastern Washington and three in the Seattle area – to replace the cheap, clean, renewable power now generated by the hydroelectric dams.

It would take 500 air-polluting trucks a day – terns and sea lions, and manage commercial harvest to bring back salmon without breaching dams.

Or we can destroy the dams, create environmental problems that kill salmon and pollute the air, and pay $25 billion over the next 100 years because some people like to dress up in silly fish costumes and petition the White House.

If the decision is made locally, I think we’ll make the common sense decision.

If we leave it up to the "other Washington," we could be in trouble.

Steve Appel, Washington Farm Bureau
Breaching Snake River Dams Doesn’t Add Up for People or Salmon
Washington Farm Bureau - March 13, 2000

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