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Commentaries and editorials

Lower Snake River Dams
Fill Many Roles

by Robert D. Rich
Capital Press, August 28, 2023

Consider increasing the utilization of our system
rather than doing away with it.

The Columbia River System, which includes the Snake River linking to Lewiston, Idaho, is a critical navigation system for shipping wheat downriver to Portland and export markets. (Tidewater photo) Imagine our growing Inland Empire, built out as it is with cities, industries and lifestyles, all being affected by climate change as we are, and being tasked with solving the following problems as they currently exist without the Lower Snake River Dams in place.

If we were tasked with dropping our agricultural transport fuel consumption by 75% over trucking.

If we were asked to be reducing and eventually eliminating our reliance on fossil fueled electricity production, replacing it with a carbonless all weather all season reliable system whose components are designed for 50- to 100-year life cycles that never need to be recycled or landfilled.

If we were asked at the same time to increase our reliance on electricity to reduce our fossil fuel dependency by demanding greater electrical production that is capable of supporting the less reliable solar and wind production.

If we decided to reduce the urban congestion and pollution that trucks and trains create idling and running in the neighborhoods of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged of our populations.

If we were directed to manage our river system with at least nearly the same fish return percentages that undammed rivers of western North America have and do it while balancing the needs of all citizens and fish alike.

And finally, though possibly more importantly, being asked to address the social equity disparity of those living close to those rail and highway corridors by reducing their exposure to the increasingly negative affects of the noise and air pollution.

Tasked with all of these individual needs, that would collectively seem to overwhelm the ability of a single fix let alone individual ones for each issue, the answer is simple, and it already is here, now. It is our federal hydro system as it exists today.

Inland barging uses less than 25% of the fuel per ton mile traveled than trucks. Generators alone can last 50 to 75 years, and then can be rewound and put back into service, no landfilling and 2 to 4 times the life of solar and wind options that currently aren't readily recycled.

The ability of dams to quickly ramp up and ramp down in power production, regardless of day, night, wind or temp without ever being fueled is second to none.

Our fish passage support and transport system isn't only the best in the world, but is showcased to other countries looking for the best possible way assist their fish populations in order to transit and thrive.

These dams and their brother and sister dams on the Columbia serve all of these tasks fully today. To add to the benefits listed above, we may want to consider increasing the utilization of our system rather than doing away with it.

Robert D. Rich is vice president of marine services for Shaver Transportation in Portland.
Lower Snake River Dams Fill Many Roles
Capital Press, August 28, 2023

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