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Commentaries and editorials

Defining High Cost, Low Value Dams

by Fred Mensik
Columbia Basin Bulletin, July 28, 2006

In your Sept. 29 issue of the CBB, I read the words, "outdated... high-cost, low value dams" when Mr. Garrity of American Rivers described the Lower Snake River dams. These agenda-driven sound bites, made by American Rivers, need clarification.

1. Outdated

The Lower Snake River dams have fish ladders for adults migrating upstream and collection systems for juveniles migrating downstream. The Lower Snake River dams are being fitted with removable spillway weirs in a continued effort to improve already existing fish passage systems. The Hells Canyon Complex dams have no fish ladders for adults and no collection systems for smolts. The Hells Canyon Complex dams, built without fish passage facilities, were outdated in the planning stage.

2. High-cost

The elimination of habitat that fish populations require for reproduction can only result in reduced numbers of self-sustaining fish populations. "Salmon are blocked by the privately owned Hells Canyon Complex of dams from passage to historic spawning grounds in the upper Snake" (REDDEN WARNS FEDS ON FLOW AUG LIMITS IN UPPER SNAKE REMAND, CBB, Issue #386). "Returns (of fall chinook) to the Snake River system dropped dramatically during the 1960s, following completion of the Hells Canyon Complex" (PATH Analyses of Fall Chinook Salmon).

Millions of dollars are spent for salmon recovery research at the COE dams on the Snake River. But much of that money is spent because of the environmental cost the Hells Canyon Complex has had on salmon. Millions more have been spent to build, operate, maintain and renovate hatcheries Idaho Power had to build as mitigation for the "salmon cost" of the Hells Canyon Complex dams. Now, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has outlined in their EIS for Idaho Power's Hells Canyon Complex relicensing (Docket No. P-1971-079) additional expenses Idaho Power will incur to mitigate for the damage this complex of dams has had on salmon.

Much of the dollar costs of research to recover salmon, up and down the Snake River, should be attributed to dams that reduced fish numbers, dams without fish passage systems, dams that eliminate fish spawning habitat, like Idaho Power's Hells Canyon Complex dams. The cost of lost fishing license revenues since the 1960s, resulting of the loss of these fish, due to the habitat destruction caused by Idaho Power's Hells Canyon Complex should also be included in the equation. When describing "high-cost" dams, American Rivers has not done an adequate job of cost-analysis.

3. Low-value

In 2005, the Hells Canyon Complex produced 4,372,931,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, 4,330,571,000 kilowatt hours in 2004 and 4,410,984,000 kilowatt hours in 2003 (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Form 1). The Lower Snake River dams average 10,915,000,000 kilowatt hours per year (U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Walla Walla District, Power System Analysis, July 1999). In 2004, Lower Granite Dam produced 2,232,265,000 kilowatt hours alone, approximately 50 percent of the total annual Hells Canyon Complex production in 2004. The Hells Canyon Complex dams produce only 40 percent of the electricity that the Lower Snake River dams produce and add only 2 percent to the power grid compared to the 5 percent of the Lower Snake River dams. In kilowatt hour comparisons, the Hells Canyon Complex dams are "low-value" dams. (bluefish has Hells Canyon Complex data converted to average annual megawatts that was compiled by Mensik)

When describing out-dated, high cost and low value dams, American Rivers is clearly agenda driven, because the facts about the Hells Canyon Complex dams are clearly substantive.

Related Pages:
Sources Of Mortality for Snake River Fall Chinook by Fred Mensik, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 7/28/6
Hells Canyon Complex Hydropower Federal Energy Regulatory Commision, compiled by Fred Mensik, Summer 2006

Fred Mensik Pomeroy, Wash.
Defining High Cost, Low Value Dams
Columbia Basin Bulletin, July 28, 2006

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