the film


Commentaries and editorials

Study On Tearing Down Snake River Dams is a
Waste of Taxpayer Money, Says Letter to Governor

by Annette Cary
Tri-City Herald, January 18, 2019

Executive director of Pacific Northwest Waterways Association
tells Lewiston audience salmon survival rates are good

KENNEWICK, WA -- A proposal to spend $750,000 of Washington state taxpayer money to study the economic and social impacts of tearing down the Lower Snake River Dams is not sitting well with Tri-City-area supporters of the dams.

They've drafted a letter to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee saying the study would be a waste.

The latest push to remove four Snake River dams is tied to the decline of the population of the iconic orca, or killer whale, population off the Washington coast. The orcas rely on chinook salmon, including from the Snake River, for most of their food.

"No one disagrees that this group of orcas is in trouble," said the letter.

But the study proposed by the governor duplicates federal studies and would be a waste of state dollars, it said.

Drafters of the letter -- a loose coalition that put together the Riverfest festival in September in Columbia Park in Kennewick to provide information on the benefits of hydroelectric dams-- are presenting the letter at public meetings of Mid-Columbia governments and asking for signatures.

About 17 local governments and agencies are expected to sign on, said Karen Miller, spokeswoman for the Benton PUD. The PUD commission already agreed to sign the letter and was expected to be presented to the Pasco City Council on Monday night and to the Kennewick City Council next week.

The letter "is consistent with where the community has been for decades," said David Reeploeg, the Tri-City Development Council vice president for federal programs. TRIDEC has the lead signature on the letter.

Inslee proposed a month ago that that state spend $1.1 billion to fund recommendations by the Southern Resident Orca Task Force he created to develop a long-term plan for recovery of killer whales. Recommendations included steps to protect the state's orca population from toxins in the water, noise from boats and lack of food.

The task force stopped short of calling for dams to be breached, instead calling for a study to investigate the impacts of tearing down the dams from Ice Harbor near the Tri-Cities upriver to Lower Granite near Pomeroy.

The task force would essentially be duplicating the same information-gathering effort underway for several years as part of a federal court-ordered environmental study, the letter said. The proposed state effort would not be as comprehensive as the federal study.

"It is reasonable to question whether the recommendations generated by such an effort would result in real help for the orcas," the letter said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries -- the federal agency responsible for recovery of the orcas -- has concluded as recently as 2014 that tearing down the dams is not needed to help either the Snake River salmon or killer whales recover, the letter said.

The agency has concluded that hatchery production of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake rivers more than offsets any dam-related losses of the salmon that orcas depend on for food, it said.

The orcas depend on different stocks of chinook up and down the coast, not just those from the Columbia and Snake rivers, the letter said.

However, environmental groups and Northwest tribes have said that spring chinook, a critical element of the orcas' diet, are endangered largely because of the impacts of the federal dams and their reservoirs.

The real issue is commercial salmon harvest and booming populations of sea lions, harbor seals and other marine predators that cluster at man-made structures and feed on chinook salmon, the letter said.

More than $2 billion have been spent to make federal dams more fish friendly, and federal scientists have said survival levels are similar to those seen in undammed rivers, such as the Fraser River in British Columbia, the letter said

Environmental groups are "using the orcas to play on the public's sympathies and promote their real goal," removal of the dams, the letter said.

The four Snake River dams are important for their role in supporting wind energy by helping keeping the electric grid stable, the letter said. The dams receive signals to increase or decrease generation to help balance the generation being added to the grid with the electricity being consumed.

The letter also pointed out that one of the governor's key interests, carbon reduction, is at odds with removing the dams.

The task force that recommended the study opposed by the letter included nearly 50 members representing state agencies, the Legislature, tribes, the federal government, local government and nonprofit organizations.

Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife data shows that the southern resident orca population fell to 74 killer whales last year, the lowest count in 30 years. The task force set a goal of increasing the population to 84 orcas in the next decade.

Inslee said in blog post outlining his plan to help save the orcas that the proposed study would inform a path forward should the four dams be removed. It would also prepare the state to participate in the federal environmental study, he said.

Local governments who have signed or are considering signing the letter include the three Tri-Cities, West Richland and Prosser; the Benton and Franklin County commissions; the Franklin and Benton PUDs; and the ports of Pasco and Benton.

Agencies expected to sign the letter include TRIDEC, Visit Tri-Cities and the Tri-City Regional, Pasco, West Richland and Tri-Cities Hispanic chambers of commerce.

Related Pages:
Opponents Call New Dam Agreement to Help Salmon 'Worse than Useless' by Cameron Probert, Tri-City Herald, 12/18/18
Orca Survival May Be Impossible without Lower Snake River Dam Removal, Scientists Say by Lynda Mapes, Seattle Times, 10/15/18
Stories on Salmon Too Often Skewed by John L. Cox, Tri-City Herald, 9/13/18

January 30, 2019
Dear Governor Inslee,

Improving orca habitat is a topic of discussion across the State of Washington. It is safe to say that all Washingtonians care about the health and future of the unique and iconic Southern Resident whale population. No one disagrees that this group of orcas is in trouble. The Tri-Cities has always strongly supported robust salmon recovery efforts, including improvements to hydro, habitat, harvest and hatchery programs, all of which also benefit orcas. We support many of the elements outlined in the Southern Resident Orca Task Force report and recommendations dated November 16, 2018.

We ae very concerned with your funding request for the Southern Resident Orca Task Force to study potential breaching or removal the four lower Snake River dams. Your budget priorities include a $750,000 proposal to fund a stakeholder process on the associated economic and social impacts as well as mitigation costs of Snake River dam removal. The task force would essentially be duplicating the same information-gathering effort that is already several years underway by the federal agencies in the Columbia River Systems Operations Environmental Impact Statement (CRSO EIS). The CRSO EIS is a regional, comprehensive effort to evaluate a range of operations alternatives for the 14 federal hydropower facilities that exist along the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The EIS process has multiple opportunities for public engagement. All Northwest states and tribes are already cooperating in this EIS process, which includes an evaluation of the four lower Snake River dams, along with an economic impact analysis and stakeholder input.

A state-level effort would not be as comprehensive as the current federal effort, would not comport with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and thus would not result in a product that can be relied upon by decision-makers or inform the CRSO EIS process or other science-based species recovery activities in the Northwest. Given the relative size and limited scope of such an effort as compared to the CRSO EIS process, it is reasonable to question whether the recommendations generated by such an effort would result in real help for the orcas. Simply put, this study would not be the best use of limited taxpayer resources.

Additionally, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries - the agency with the expertise and responsibility for the recovery of these pods - has increased efforts to inform the region about fish, orcas, and dams. NOAA has released three fact sheets recently (one in 2016 and two in 2018) specifically on the four lower Snake River dams and the orcas. They assessed the operation of the four lower Snake River dams and their effects on listed salmon and steelhead in the 2008 Biological Opinion. In 2014, their supplemental Biological Opinion re-examined the issues, including consequences for Southern Resident killer whales. Neither opinion concluded that breaching the dams is necessary for recovery of the Snake River salmon or Southern Resident killer whales. The biological opinions concluded that hatchery production of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake River systems more than offsets any losses of salmon from the killer whale prey base caused by the dams.

However, after decades of using other arguments in their attempts to justify removing the four lower Snake River dams, some environmental groups have latched-on to the plight of the orcas. They are now stating that removing the four lower Snake River dams is the solution to improving the orcas' diminished Chinook salmon supply. Despite the availability of accurate information from NOAA and other reputable sources, these groups are using the orcas to play on the public's sympathies and promote their real goal: removal of the four lower Snake River dams.

Fish from the Snake and Columbia Rivers are just one part of the list of Chinook runs which are important for orcas in Puget Sound. These orcas consume many different salmon stocks, including Fraser River Chinook, Puget Sound Chinook, and Coho salmon. In winter, the whales consume Chinook from many different stocks up and down the coast, including but not limited to fish from the Columbia and Snake Rivers. While increasing overall salmon abundance is likely to help the whales, it is important to understand that NOAA Fisheries has concluded that because orcas feed on many different stocks at different times, one narrow approach to fish recovery, such as breaching dams on the Snake River, will not make a measurable improvement for orca survival. It is instructive to note that in his May 2017 ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon accepted NOAA Fisheries' conclusion that hatchery production of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake River systems is more than sufficient to offset any reduction in salmon abundance caused by federal hydropower dams. Judge Simon did not rule in favor of plaintiffs on this issue, who had argued that hydro system operations endanger orcas.

While prey is important to long term orca recovery, to help orcas in the immediate term we should focus on the more logical and much quicker solutions including further restrictions on boat traffic and noise in Puget Sound, reducing and preventing urban pollution contaminating the Puget Sound, and increasing and expanding current habitat restoration efforts on the Snohomish and Skagit rivers and in other rivers contributing directly to the Puget Sound where salmon spawn.

In addition, all ways to improve salmon populations should be explored and implemented; e.g. further restrictions on commercial salmon harvest and greater control of natural marine predators occupying unnatural positions around built structures. The latest research concludes that booming populations of sea lions, harbor seals and West Coast marine predators are eating more Chinook salmon than ever, competing directly with orcas for this food supply. In short, the most immediate way to improve salmon numbers is to stop killing them ourselves.

Investments in salmon restoration have included a complete overhaul of the federal dams to make them more fish friendly, at a cost of more than $2 billion. For example, every one of the federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers have been retrofitted with state of the art downstream fish passage technologies. These "fish slides" and other technologies are helping young fish migrate safely and swiftly with per-dam survival rates averaging 96% past the four lower Snake River dams. Due to the success of improved passage and dam operations, NOAA Fisheries and other scientists have stated that these survival levels are similar to those seen in undammed rivers such as the Fraser River in British Columbia.

The Northwest is home to the largest fish and wildlife restoration program anywhere in the nation, and likely the world. Nearly $17 billion has been spent to mitigate for the impacts of the dams on fish and wildlife since the late 1970's. It is important to point out that the Northwest is unique in this respect too: almost all these costs are borne by Northwest families and businesses through their electric bills -- not U.S. taxpayers.

While the federal hydro system provides 60% of the Pacific Northwest's clean power, it does much more. The system of federal dams protects rural communities and big cities alike from devastating floods, creates a river highway that links the Northwest to the rest of the nation, and provides recreational opportunities and irrigation for over 7 million acres of farmland producing $8 billion in agricultural income. Barging on the inland Columbia Snake River System moves, on average, approximately 9 million tons of cargo valued at over $3 billion each year. In fact, most years see nearly 10% of the nation's wheat exports travel through our lower Snake River dams. There is no question that the federal hydro system is the backbone of the region's carbon free energy supply and the lifeblood of its economy.

Because of their location, size and ability to help meet peak power loads, the four lower Snake River dams do much more than generate electricity -- they are key to keeping the system reliable and help support wind energy. These dams lie east of the other federal generators, so they provide a significant contribution to transmission grid reliability. BPA markets power from 31 federal dams, but only the 10 largest of these dams keep the federal power system operating smoothly through the use of automatic generation control, AGC. Those 10 dams include the four lower Snake River dams. When total electricity being consumed differs from the generation in the power system, automatic signals go to these few dams with AGC to instantly increase or decrease generation. This maintains the constant balance of generation and loads, or electrical demand, which is necessary for power system reliability, critical to keeping the lights on, every minute, every day.

We believe that your carbon reduction goals are in conflict with dam removal. The four lower Snake River dams are strategic clean energy assets and maintaining them is an important component of a clean energy future. We will be working with the legislature to request removal of the $750,000 proposal to fund the study. It is a duplicate effort of federal agencies, and should not lie on the backs of Washington taxpayers.

Carl Adrian, CEO, TRIDEC (509) 735-1000
Jeff Hall, Benton PUD, Commission President
Roger Wright, Franklin PUD, Commission President
Matt Watkins, City of Pasco Mayor
Don Britain, City of Kennewick Mayor
Robert Thompson, City of Richland Mayor
Brent Gerry, City of West Richland Mayor
Randy Taylor, City of Prosser Mayor
Shon Small, Chair, Benton County Commissioners
Bob Koch, Chair, Franklin County Commissioners
Randy Hayden, Executive Director, Port of Pasco
Roy D. Keck, Port of Benton Commission President
Lori Mattson, CEO, Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce
Colin Hastings, CEO, Pasco Chamber of Commerce
Dan O'Neill, President, West Richland Chamber of Commerce
Michael Novakovich, President/CEO, Visit Tri-Cities (800) 254-5824
Nikki Torres, President, Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (509) 542-0933

Annette Cary
Study On Tearing Down Snake River Dams is a Waste of Taxpayer Money, Says Letter to Governor
Tri-City Herald, January 18, 2019

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation