Removal of Snake River Dams
by Editorial Board
Thousands of jobs would be jeopardized.
There is no dispute that Columbia River salmon runs are in serious trouble, nor is there doubt that there’s a direct tie between healthy salmon runs and a healthy Puget Sound orca population. There’s plenty of dispute, however, about how to revive the many depleted salmonid stocks throughout the Columbia-Snake system.
One such dispute -- one of the biggest and longest -- lasting -- continues to center on whether the four dams along the lower Snake River should be removed. The dams and the declining salmon runs have been the focus of numerous studies and much litigation for decades; three federal judges have dismissed five reports on the Columbia-Snake hydroelectric system over the years, contending that the plans failed to adequately protect salmon.
No doubt the most recent federal report will face the same type of scrutiny.
Released Feb. 28, the draft environmental impact statement says that the four dams -- from west to east, Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite -- between the Tri-Cities and Lewiston, Idaho, should stay put. Removing them would cause serious harm to the Northwest power grid and greatly increase greenhouse emissions as river barge traffic and its relatively low carbon imprint would give way to many more trucks and trains, it notes.
As expected, environmental groups quickly took exception to the report while opponents of dam removal gave it a thumbs-up.
We have a healthy respect for those seeking to bolster the depleted fish runs -- and thus bolster the population of the iconic orcas, which dine largely on salmon. The numbers are grim; the risk of extinction is real.
But it’s impossible to ignore the startling and stark projections regarding the Northwest economy and environment should the dams be removed -- with no guarantee whatsoever that such action would save the salmon. In fact, a pair of previous studies by NOAA Fisheries -- the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency in charge of salmon and orca recovery -- concluded that dam removal would have a slight impact on salmon numbers and nothing more.
One such set of economic and environmental projections comes from a group with a clear dog in the hunt, the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, which promotes barging and commissioned a report by an independent consultant. The consultant, FCS Group, contends that, with no lower Snake River dams and thus no barging along that stretch of waterway:
(bluefish notes: Train transport has been MORE efficient than barge since the mid-1990s. See Department of Energy, Center for Transportation Analysis)The study also suggests that hundreds of farmers and growers would find themselves in peril due to higher transportation costs -- meaning either bankruptcy for many, or the need for millions of dollars in government subsidies. Thousands of jobs would be jeopardized.
Assuming these numbers are reasonable, and assuming the need for improvements to roads and railroad tracks because of the increased traffic, one can see that the cost of dam removal would be high indeed -- again, with the assumption of, at best, a limited boost to salmon runs.
Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on fish-passage improvements at the dams, along with adjustments to spill levels intended to help salmon migration without compromising power production.
By all means, salmon and orcas need protection. But there are many environmental causes for their decline besides the four Snake River dams, in particular a serious pollution problem in the waters of Puget Sound. Removing those dams and at the same time creating another substantial environmental compromise makes no sense.
It's Not Even Close: Economics says the Snake River Dams Should Go by Daniel Malarkey, Sightline Institute, 9/16/19
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