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Dams are Integral Part of the PNW

by Washington Wheat Commission
Wheat Life, December 2006

The Columbia River is 1214 miles long and from its source at 2650 feet above sea level, the river falls an average of more than two feet per mile before reaching the ocean. The largest tributary is the Snake River, which is 1036 miles long. Average annual runoff at its mouth is about 198-million acre-feet.

A map of the Columbia Basin river system reveals dams throughout the Pacific Northwest on virtually every major river. Some dams have fish by-pass systems installed, while others do not. For example in Idaho, Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon erected in 1959, 1961 and 1967 respectively, do not; permanently blocking salmon from the upper Snake River Basin. Idaho's Dworshak Dam completed in 1973 also permanently blocks salmon and steelhead form the North Fork of the Clearwater River. Other dams on the Lower Snake River have fish by-pass facilities.

Washington's Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams completed in 1941 and 1961 respectively permanently block anadromous fish from the upper Columbia River Basin. Built in 1932, Rock Island Dam was the first dam built on the mainstem Columbia River. The dam provides fish by-pass, as do the other dams on the Columbia below Chief Joseph Dam.

The Columbia River Basin's hydroelectric system is listed as the nation's most productive source of hydropower. The major dams have a combined potential capacity of over 2400 megawatts of clean renewable energy.

Capturing the power of falling water

While many regions of the country must rely on coal and natural gas power plants, the Northwest relies on hydropower for about two-thirds of its electricity. In fact, 40 percent of all U.S. hydropower comes from the Columbia Basin river system. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council notes that in an area considerably larger than the country of France, hydro power is crucial with 58 dams built exclusively for hydropower in the Columbia River Basin. Seventy-four percent of the power generating capacity in the four PNW states is hydropower (32,950 megawatts of the 44,350 megawatts total). In addition to the 58 hydropower dams, there are 78 multiple purpose projects in the basin that include hydropower. (See

BPA pays bill

In its responsibility to taxpayer investment in the Columbia River Power System, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) made an annual payment of $1.113-billion for FY2006 to the U.S. Treasury. The payment consists of $646.2-million in principal and $309.6-million in interest and $76.1-million in other obligations. BPA also paid operation and maintenance expenses of $217.2-million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service projects directly funded by BPA.

Region moves forward on salmon recovery

While there are more than two dozen fish stocks listed as threatened and endangered up and down the Pacific Coast, within the Columbia River Basin there are 13 listed fish stocks. The Action Agencies report:

Complete progress reports are available at
Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration

Washington Wheat Commission
Dams are Integral Part of the PNW
Wheat Life, December 2006

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