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Sun Valley Forum to Explore Connection
Between Endangered Salmon, Energy Generation

by Tony Tekaroniake Evans
Idaho Mountain Express, June 2, 2022

Snake River salmon face gauntlet from hydropower dams

Shoshone-Paiute Tribal Councilman Thomas Arnold participated in a sacred ceremony and tribal teaching at Shoshone Falls, the natural uppermost limit of Snake River salmon. Idaho's wild salmon and steelhead are on the brink of extinction, including the Sawtooth sockeye, which travel 900 miles from the Pacific Ocean to spawn at the nearby headwaters of the Salmon River.

This endangered species has so far miraculously survived despite running a gauntlet of hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. But with climate change and invasive species exacerbating impacts on the resilient species, which is sacred and fundamental to Native American cultures in the region, many advocates are calling for removal of four dams on the lower Snake River to ensure salmon survival.

A panel discussion during the 7th Annual Sun Valley Forum on Wednesday, June 8, at 11:45 at the Argyros Performing Arts Center will address the connection between electricity generation and salmon recovery. The talk is titled "Constructing Resilient Energy Systems: Salmon and Electricity in the Pacific Northwest.

Mitch Cutter, salmon and steelhead associate for the Idaho Conservation League, will moderate the discussion. Speakers include Chantel Greene, CEO and founder of Xexus Greene Energy and a member of the Nez Perce Tribe; Jim Norton, energy consultant and project coordinator for Columbia Rediviva; and Russ Thurow, research fisheries scientist for the US Forest Service.

According to program notes, the hydroelectric dams that impede salmon migration are "increasingly irrelevant." A recent plan was promoted by Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson to remove dams from the lower Snake River. This panel's experts will discuss how to restore salmon to abundance and move the Northwest's energy system "into the 21st century" at the same time.

Cutter said salmon and steelhead are impacted by the Northwest's energy system's hydroelectric dams, which impound rivers into reservoirs, creating a gauntlet of obstacles that fish face as they migrate downstream and then back up.

"Climate change is affecting both salmon and energy," Cutter said. "Warmer water temperatures exacerbate the effects of these reservoirs on salmon, killing them in polluted waters filled with non-native species. River flows are also changing, so there's less water (and generation) in the late summer, when demand is highest."

Cutter said the lower Snake River dams stand out because of their significant role in pushing wild Snake River salmon toward extinction, and their minor role in the Northwest energy system.

"While other Columbia Basin fish populations are holding steady, Snake River salmon and steelhead are in decline," Cutter said. "The only difference for these fish is that they must pass eight dams, instead of 3 to 5, like other fish in the region. The dams produce only about 4% of the region's electricity, more than half of which is generated in the spring, when the region already has significant surplus energy."

The panel discussion will focus on this nexus, and how to move forward by building resilience in salmon populations and the regional energy system.

"The Snake River and its tributaries is a stronghold for salmon against the effects of climate change. Similarly, our energy system can become a stronghold through development of diversified, clean energy resources," Cutter said.

The Sun Valley Forum was founded in 2015 by the Sun Valley Institute for Resilience, established by Aimee Christensen to gather global leaders across industry and innovation, finance and government, advocacy and the arts, to share strategies and spark connections to accelerate resilience regionally and around the world.

Tony Tekaroniake Evans
Sun Valley Forum to Explore Connection
Between Endangered Salmon, Energy Generation

Idaho Mountain Express, June 2, 2022

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