Lower Snake River
by Emily Thornton
Stakeholders disagree on impact of dams on salmon, orca, agriculture, energy, recreation and economy
WASHINGTON -- A recent report was submitted by Governor Inslee about the Lower Snake River Dams and the complexities and dangers of dam breaching. The report comes at a time when a crack in a concrete sill was noticed on a dam on the lower Columbia River in September. Commerce was halted at a critical time when farmers were shipping out their wheat and goods. The report discusses how the Lower Snake River dams impact the Tri-state area and how the local economy benefits from their use. Blackfoot and local farmers are impacted by these important discoveries. Goods from the area are sent up to the Snake River corridor to be shipped all over the world. If the dams are no longer being used for shipping, there will be some major changes to how items will be shipped to the Pacific. The Snake River Corridor is also a part of migration of salmon in the area. Without these dams or salmon runs, the impact could be felt locally as well.
Governor Inslee made a trek across the area to discuss the the report with the public. They gathered over 400 policy leaders to bring together the report. The report also looked at both sides of the issues, including what would be involved removing or keeping the dams. The report also discussed how a future of clean energy, while coal is being removed as a common source, how would the dams impact the influx of power.
When the report was published, the Northwest River Partners(NWRP) had a quick response about the report and the inconsistencies, and issues that can arise. The NWRP is a not-for-profit member driven organization. They have people who are from consumer-owned utilities, ports, and businesses across the Northwest United States. They help raise awareness about how hydropower systems are a boon to the community and even the natural environment. They focus on science based solutions that hydropower and salmon can coexist and thrive. The members help represent over four million electric utility customers, thousands of farmers and employees, and small and large businesses which provide hundreds of thousands of jobs for the communities across the Northwest. They were brought together to provide the public and policy with information that they don't hear from the litigants, and focusing on debates through the use of science.
Kurt Miller is one of the report stakeholders with NWRP. He discussed some of the issues the NWRP had about Inslee's report. "Our perspective on the report is unique. The grid itself needs to be in perfect balance to work. Solar power and even wind power can be intermittent. Hydroelectric dams have storage, when the electrical needs are higher it can push more water into the generators to deal with the influx."
On average the dams provide 1,000 megawatts 24/7 across the course of a year depending on the snow pack. For example, it is how much power it would require to run Seattle for one year. The dams can flux to up to 3,000 megawatts capability.
The salmon runs were also a big issue within the report from Governor Inslee. According to Miller, "Finding a concrete solution is going to be hard. Within the last few years there has been over two-billion devoted to updating the salmon passages. Even though there are not as many salmon returning to their home grounds, a lot of this is due to issues within the oceans, not just the dams along their migration routes. The NOAA stated that they are seeing almost a synchronous decline in population which has more to do with ocean changes. Truth is we believe in pass dams, there are bigger issues in play than the dams."
A section of the report detailed that the dams could be replaced wholly by wind power. Miller stated, "A recently released critique stated that Inslee's discussion about wind power was based on assumptions back in 2016. A lot has changed and the assumptions are no longer valid."
The NWRP is working on a third party critique to send to the governor. The written commentary will critique the study more in depth than was initially given to the governor. Miller stated,"We want the Governor to be aware of the issues. It is shortsighted to tear out carbon-free resources like dams as the region struggles with the harmful effects of climate change. It is also unclear how much dam breaching would truly benefit salmon, as sediment released from dam breaching could choke rivers downstream. This is why the written commentary is so important. By backing it up with science, then the governor can take the step further on getting federal help."
Overall the report that Governor Inslee reported on has brought up numerous environmental issues the public should be aware of. By having a critique sent to governor from agencies like NWRP, he can have the scientific evidence to make an informed decision about the area and the future of environmental issues. Many people hope that Governor Inslee will take everything into consideration when looking at the impact the dams have on commerce and the area. The Snake River corridor is an important part of Blackfoot commerce, and one hopes Inslee will look at this.
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