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Economic and dam related articles

Breaching Just Doesn’t Make Sense

by Glenn Vanselow
Portland Tribune - August 13, 2004

Opinions differ on the efficacy of four Snake River dams

Lower Granite Dam, about 50 miles northeast of Walla Walla, Wash., is among the lower Snake River dams that is spawning debate: Is breaching a good or bad idea environmentally and economically? The other dams are Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Ice Harbor. Breaching dams is not a fish-versus-economy proposition. Breaching dams is extreme and risky for both.

Breaching dams is risky for fish.
Removing dams is not a sure fix for the Snake River. Only four of the 26 West Coast runs listed under the Endangered Species Act are on the Snake. Therefore, the reasons for decline go far beyond the Snake River dams.

Several billion dollars have been spent to improve fish survival throughout the river system. One can argue that not every dollar was effectively spent. However, the bottom-line result is that conditions throughout the system have improved tremendously since the 1970s, when mortality was high and fish runs were declining dramatically.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Science Center says survival through the system for Snake River chinook salmon today matches or exceeds what it was before the Snake River dams were built (bluefish recieved this statement from NOAA Fisheries "A reference for the quote is a draft NOAA Technical Memorandum on the effects of the Federal Columbia River Power System on salmon populations. The report is expected to be finalized and released in November or December.").

Furthermore, conditions in the ocean are proving to be far more important in determining how many adult salmon return to their home rivers. In the 1970s and ’80s, ocean conditions were poor and runs were declining. In the past four years, ocean conditions have improved, and salmon have been returning in record numbers.

If the purpose of removing dams is to increase fish survival, and if the survival rate is higher now than it was without the dams, breaching dams simply Doesn’t Make Sense.

Breaching dams is bad for the environment.
Breaching dams eliminates hydropower and barge navigation. Hydropower does not pollute the air. It has no emissions and does not contribute to global warming. Navigation is the least polluting mode of transportation.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, per ton-mile, barges consume less fuel (only 40 percent that of rail and 11 percent of what trucks use) and produce significantly fewer emissions (one-quarter of the emissions of rail, one-tenth the emissions of trucks).

Breaching dams would put hundreds of thousands more trucks on the highway through the Columbia Gorge and on the streets of Portland and Vancouver, Wash.

Breaching dams would hurt the economy.
Hydropower fuels the factories, powers the high-tech companies, lights the businesses and heats the homes of the Northwest. Breaching the Snake River dams would push electric rates higher in Portland and throughout the region. The cost of lost hydropower would be $400 million every year, forever, plus the cost of constructing and fueling new power plants.

(bluefish does the math: The BPA charged $32.40 per Megawatt*hour for power in 2004. The BPA assumes 732 aMW firm energy from four Lower Snake River (LSR) dams. Thus in an average water year, LSR Hydropower is worth $ 208 million = 732 aMW x $32.4/MWh x 365 days/year x 24 h/day ).

The inland barge system feeds Portland and the Columbia River ports. Columbia River navigation supports $14 billion in international trade. The river is one of the largest export gateways in the United States, ranking No. 1 in the nation for wheat and barley, No. 2 in the nation for corn, and first on the West Coast for mineral bulks, forest products and paper products. It accounts for more than 40,000 jobs in the Portland area alone.

Whether you care about fish, the economy or both, common sense says breaching dams is not the answer.

Related Pages:
We’re Better Off Without Barricades by Charles Hudson, Portland Tribune, 8/13/4
Irrigation from 4 Lower Snake Reservoirs Fact Sheet 1993 by Reed Burkholder
Navigation Tonnage Summary by Commodity by Army Corps of Engineers
Seasonal Hydropower from 8 Dams by Army Corps of Engineers

Glenn Vanselow is executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association. The group has been working to enhance economic vitality in the Northwest since 1934.
Breaching Just Doesn’t Make Sense
Portland Tribune, August 13, 2004

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