Dam Breaching is a Win-win Deal,
by Eric Barker
Environmental groups say billions of new dollars would be generated
An economic study released by environmental groups Wednesday claims removing the lower Snake River dams would recover salmon runs, save taxpayers money and generate billions of dollars in tourism.
The report also says dams can be removed without harming the regional power supply or farmers who use the river to get their crops to market.
But the report was sharply criticized by federal fisheries and power officials as simplistic and overreaching.
The report, titled "Revenue Stream," says breaching the dams would save taxpayers and utility ratepayers $2 billion to $5 billion dollars over the next 20 years while generating $9 billion to $20 billion in new fishing and recreation-based revenue.
"We are confident 'Revenue Stream' presents the facts and additional study will confirm dam removal as the most economically sound path to salmon recovery in the Snake River," said David Jenkins, government affairs director for Republicans for Environmental Protection.
Billed as the first side-by-side comparison, the report compares the costs and benefits of keeping the dams with the costs and benefits of removing them. Authors of the study say it is intended as a starting point for regional and national discussion on the best and most cost effective way to save salmon.
"I think this report is a great discussion starter and it lays out the framework for the people of the region to start addressing salmon recovery as it relates to the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and the whole Pacific Northwest," said Bill Sedivy of Idaho Rivers United at Boise.
Four stocks of Snake River salmon and steelhead are listed as threatened or endangered. Environmental groups have argued for years that removing four dams in eastern Washington would allow the fish to recover. But the issue has raised fierce debate in the region with opponents saying dam breaching will hurt the economy largely by raising the price of electricity and making it more difficult for grain farmers to access markets.
The study attempts to dispel those concerns and make an economic case for dam breaching. According to the study, it will cost $7.8 billion to $9.1 billion over a 10-year period and $15.7 to $18.2 billion over 20 years to keep the dams in place. While removing the dams would cost $6.2 billion to $9.1 billion over a 10-year period and $11.1 billion to $16.6 billion over 20 years.
Costs of keeping the dams include continued expenditures to recover salmon and steelhead, maintenance and repairs at the dams and building higher levees to keep Lewiston from flooding as Lower Granite Reservoir continues to collect sediment.
Costs of breaching the dams include construction work to remove the earthen structures from the river, replacing power generated at the dams and improving rail and road transportation systems so farmers and others can still get their goods to market.
Much of the savings would come from reductions in the amount of money the region and country would have to spend on salmon recovery. The government's salmon recovery plan calls for expenditures of about $600 million a year. The authors of the study say that figure would be slashed dramatically, 35 percent to 55 percent, if the dams were breached.
With the dams gone they say fewer dollars would have to be spent to improve upstream habitat. Bob Lohn, regional director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration disagrees. He said breaching the Snake River dams would only help four of the 13 listed stocks in the Columbia River Basin and most of the $600 million would still be needed.
"It appeared to me they were confusing the total cost of salmon recovery with what might be saved if you could remove the Snake River run from that equation," he said.
Sara Patton, executive director of the Northwest Energy Coalition said energy produced at the dams could easily be replaced through conservation and new renewable sources like wind farms.
"There are plenty of affordable energy efficiencies and renewable energy resources that can replace the power from the lower Snake River dams," she said.
A spokesman at the Bonneville Power Administration questioned that assertion and said the amount of power produced at the dams, while small, is essential.
"We are fully supportive of adding as many renewables as we can and increasing conservation but that alone is not going to be able to replace taking out those four Lower Snake River dams," said BPA spokesman Mike Hansen at Portland.
(See Seasonal Hydropower on Lower Columbia & Lower Snake Rivers" ACOE data)
The report claims removing the dams and recovering salmon and steelhead runs would add as much as a billion dollars to the commercial fishing, tourism and outdoor recreation industries in the region. Restored Snake River salmon runs could boost coastal commercial fishing by $127.4 million a year said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Association.
"It's not just Columbia River stocks that will be aided," he said. "Fishing on other stocks has been constrained because of concerns for listed species in the Columbia."
The report relies on previous studies for its numbers. It calls on federal officials and Congress to conduct more studies where current information is lacking. For example there is little information about what the economic impacts of restored Snake River salmon and steelhead runs would mean to businesses in Washington in Oregon.
The report does draw on a 2005 Idaho Rivers United study that said restored Snake River runs could boost the Idaho economy by more than $500 million a year. "Revenue Stream" uses those numbers and projects similar numbers downriver to Washington and Oregon. But the Idaho Study was criticized by a University of Idaho economist Jay O'Laughlin, for overestimating the economic impact of restored salmon runs.
O'Laughlin read the new study Thursday and said it appears thorough. He was critical of the large range of economic costs and benefits in the study and said it should be subjected to peer review before being used by decision makers.
"They have done the hard part. The hard part is the first draft," he said.
"Revenue Stream" is available on the Internet at http://www.wildsalmon.org/libraryfiles/revenuestream8.pdf.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs