Myths and Facts about
by Save Our Wild Salmon
Myth 1: Northwest ratepayers could pay $400-550 million a year to replace the power lost if the four lower Snake River dams are removed since these dams generate enough to power Seattle.
Reality: The four lower Snake River dams are relatively unreliable sources of power compared to some other dams in the federal Columbia River system. They are "run of the river" dams with very little storage capacity and are thus almost totally dependent on the amount of snowpack and rate of runoff. While they have a collective generating capacity of 3,033 megawatts, their average yearly output is around a third of that -- 1,075 average megawatts (aMWs).
Together, these four dams produce only 790 aMWs of firm power (i.e., the amount of electricity utilities can count on in a drought year). And even that is misleading, since most of that potential exists in spring when the region has a power surplus. When the energy is most needed in winter and late summer, these dams are good for only 425-525 MWs. If Seattle had to rely on the lower Snake dams for its power, it would have electricity shortages much of the year.
To reach the conclusion that ratepayers might have to pay $400-550 million a year to replace the lost power, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) calculated the cost of replacing the dams' power mainly with natural gas-fired turbines -- not energy conservation and renewables -- and used the cost of 3,400 MWs (almost 400 MWs more than the posted "nameplate" capacity rating of the dams) to replace the 1,075 MWs of power that the dams provide on average. BPA's costs are at least twice that of energy experts who have analyzed this question and used energy conservation and renewable energy sources as energy replacements.
Myth 2: Renewable energy and conservation cannot replace the lost generation or cover future load growth if the four lower Snake River dams are removed.
Reality: Recent studies by Ecotope (www.nwenergy.org/power/Power of Efficiency 050109.pdf/view) and the NW Energy Coalition (www.lightintheriver. org/brightfuture) confirm that there is enough affordable energy efficiency and renewable energy resources in the Northwest to satisfy load growth, phase out all of the region's carbon-emitting coal plants, electrify much of the region's transportation system, and replace the modest amount of power coming from the four lower Snake River dams, at a cost of about two-thirds of a cent per kilowatt-hour more than continued reliance on fossil fuels. The four dams combined produce about one-twentieth of the region's energy, so replacing their power would have a very small rate impact.
In addition to being much cheaper and cleaner than gas, reducing loads through conservation frees up valuable transmission capacity needed to integrate more renewables in the Columbia Gorge, and reduces the need for the peaking ability of the dams. The NW Energy Coalition's Bright Future report builds on these findings and charts a sensible and affordable path toward a Northwest energy future where regional carbon emissions are reduced enough to meet the targets of the International Panel on Climate Change and the lower Snake River is restored for the benefit of salmon, jobs, and communities.
Myth 3: The lower Snake dams are necessary to ensure that wind power can be integrated into the power grid.
Reality: Removal of the four lower Snake River dams will not significantly increase the cost to integrate or back up wind resources into the grid. Hydropower facilities can "firm" or back up wind generation by leaving water in the reservoir when the wind is blowing and generating power, and then releasing the water to generate power when the wind is not blowing. But the region has no excess hydro capacity to use for this purpose that is not now being used for helping its inflexible coal and nuclear power plants follow daily load swings. Integrating wind (with flexible gas-fired plants and load response measures) will cost the same with or without the four lower Snake River dams.
Myth 4: Fish are doing better than ever and returns are approaching historic levels.
Reality: Contrary to repeated statements from federal agencies, most wild Snake River salmon and steelhead returns remain at about the same levels as when they were first listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the early 1990's. After preseason predictions of post-dam era "record returns" (which were misleading in the first place since they failed to note that the overwhelming majority of the returns -- between 70 and 80% -- were hatchery fish, not wild ones), it appears that 2009 will be another year of marginal returns. In fact, salmon managers in the Columbia River Basin say perhaps half of the spring chinook originally projected will return past Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River this year and numbers will remain well below the already depressed 10-year average.
Myth 5: Removal of the Snake River dams will benefit only 4 of 13 ESA-listed fish populations in the Columbia-Snake Basin and there is no science or data suggesting that dam removal would restore them anyway.
Reality: Many claim that removing the four lower Snake dams will only help four of the thirteen ESA-listed species in the Columbia-Snake Basin. In truth, while the four Snake River salmon and steelhead populations will benefit the most from the removal of the four lower Snake River dams, this action will also help improve water quality and flow in the lower Columbia River, thus benefiting all 13 listed stocks that migrate through the Columbia. Furthermore, a salmon recovery plan including dam removal could free up funding for salmon recovery efforts elsewhere in the Columbia Basin.
The science is clear that lower Snake River dam removal is the best hope to restore salmon runs in the Basin. The fishing industry has lost more than 25,000 jobs because of salmon declines in the Columbia-Snake BasinThe power from these dams can be affordably replaced with proven carbon-free energy sources.
Among other sources, the Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypotheses (PATH, a group of federal, state, tribal, and independent scientists convened by the Clinton Administration in the mid-1990s to examine the causes of Columbia and Snake River salmon declines and the best courses of action for reversing those declines) report from 1998 concluded that within 24 years, removing the lower Snake River dams had an 80 and 100% probability, respectively, of recovering Snake River spring/summer chinook and fall chinook. In addition, NOAA's 2000 Biological Opinion concluded that dam removal was the most biologically certain way to recover Snake River salmon: "[B]reaching the four lower Snake River dams would provide more certainty of long-term survival and recovery than would other measures." According to the American Fisheries Society, "[i] n contrast to the uncertainty of success from the removal of hydro projects in other portions of the basin, the benefits to Snake River stock survival and recovery would be assured with the removal of the lower four dams on that system..."
Myth 6: The real problem for Columbia and Snake River salmon is not the dams, but instead climate change and ever-changing ocean conditions.
Reality: By far the biggest killer of endangered wild salmon and steelhead are the dams on the lower Snake and mainstem Columbia. In fact, the current federal salmon plan permits the federal dams to kill more than 90% of some of these salmon. Yet NOAA and BPA have consistently downplayed those impacts and instead have attributed both good and bad salmon returns to ocean conditions. The best science shows us that the most effective way to ensure strong salmon returns in variable ocean cycles is to fix their freshwater habitat -- and that begins with the removal of the four lower Snake River dams. While dam removal is not a silver bullet, with strong actions including dam removal, salmon populations will be better able to weather poor ocean cycles in good health and truly thrive when ocean conditions are good.
Thanks to their extensive high-elevation habitat in the mountain rivers and streams of Idaho, NE Oregon, and SE Washington, Snake River salmon and steelhead are well-positioned to survive and thrive in spite of climate change -- but only if the four warm, predator-filled reservoirs on the lower Snake River are replaced with a cooler, swifter, freeflowing river.
Myth 7: Removing the lower Snake River dams will cause economic devastation and thousands of lost jobs.
Reality: Federal taxpayers and Northwest ratepayers have already spent upwards of $8 billion on salmon recovery efforts in the Columbia-Snake River Basin for fairly little in return. The federal government has indicated that the current plan will cost an additional $700 million per year to continue the same general activities that we have been doing for the last decade, but which are not achieving sustainable salmon populations. At the same time, the fishing industry has lost more than 25,000 jobs because of salmon declines in the Columbia-Snake Basin. We cannot afford to continue down this path and lose any more jobs.
A RAND Corp. (www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1604/index.html) analysis, as well as one by a coalition of taxpayer, energy, fishing, and conservation groups (wildsalmon.org/images/stories/sos/PDFs/revenuestream8.pdf), found that removing the Snake River dams may be cheaper in the long run than continuing to spend resources on the failed strategies of the past. In fact, the latter study found that as much as $1.6 to $4.6 billion could be saved with the removal of the four lower Snake River dams. And RAND's analysis found that, if done well, dam removal could actually produce as many as 15,000 new, long-term jobs. If expanded fishing business opportunities are included in the economic picture, lower Snake River dam removal could bring billions of dollars in increased economic benefits to the Northwest from expanded fishing (both sport and commercial), new river-based recreational opportunities, and non-recreational revenue. The current federal salmon plan permits the federal dams to kill more than 90% of some populations of salmon.
Myth 8: Removing the lower Snake River dams will hurt farmers and irrigators.
Reality: Removal of the lower Snake River dams need not have a detrimental impact on farmers in eastern Washington. Prior to the completion of those dams in 1975, grain and other products in the region were transported to market chiefly by rail and truck. Today, a significant portion of these products moves via barge from Lewiston, Idaho, or grain-loading facilities elsewhere on the lower Snake River. Recent studies have found that the 140-mile navigation channel created by the lower Snake River dams could be affordably and effectively replaced by upgrading the Northwest's railroad lines. Upgrading railroads in southeastern Washington and Idaho to accommodate most of the grain currently moving down the lower Snake River (some would still be barged from Columbia River ports near Pasco, Washington) would not be cheap, but it can done cost-effectively. Regarding irrigators in the Columbia-Snake basin, removal of the four lower Snake River dams could actually take pressure off upriver irrigators in Idaho, who under an aggressive non-dam-removal plan would need to let more water remain in the river to mitigate for the effects of the dams. And the relatively small amount of irrigated farmland along the lower Snake River (Ice Harbor Dam is the only one that provides irrigation for farms) could be replaced by extending intake pipes to a free-flowing river. Similarly, dryland wheat farmers could retain an affordable, reliable transportation system if some of the taxpayer savings from dam removal are invested in upgrading railroads, highways, and Columbia River barge facilities.
Myth 9: Lower Snake River dam removal will cause an increase in air pollution.
Reality: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that the removal of the four lower Snake River dams would actually decrease air emissions by seven tons per year from the transportation sector. The same Corps analysis found that air emissions from the power sector would increase by less than 1% in the Western states. However, that Corps analysis assumed power from the Snake dams was replaced with CO2-producing alternatives. More recent analyses from RAND Corp. and the NW Energy Coalition have found that the power from these dams can be affordably replaced with proven carbon-free energy sources.
Myth 10: Redoing the current federal salmon plan would upset agreements built around that plan.
Reality: There is no reason that the current Memoranda of Agreement between the Bonneville Power Administration and several of the sovereigns in the Columbia River Basin could not and should not remain in place if the salmon plan is improved. Fishing and conservation groups, along with the State of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe have argued in court that the projects identified in those agreements should continue to be funded – no matter what additional actions or changes may be found necessary to protect and restore salmon in the Columbia and Snake River Basin. The only reason these agreements would be disturbed is if the federal government decided to abandon them. Simply ensuring that the current federal salmon plan is legally and scientifically sufficient need not have any impact on those regional agreements. If expanded fishing business opportunities are included in the economic picture, lower Snake River dam removal could bring billions of dollars in increased economic benefits to the Northwest.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs