the film
Commentaries and editorials

Thankful for Snake River Dams

by Kurt Miller
Tri-City Herald, November 23, 2020

Water spills at Lower Granite Dam, one of the four dams on the lower Snake River that salmon advocates have targeted for breaching. Thanksgiving in 2020 will look much different than in previous years, but that doesn't mean there isn't still plenty to be thankful for. Whether it is our health, our jobs, or our ability to gather with friends, we now have a much deeper appreciation for the things in life that are too easily taken for granted.

One of the things we've come to appreciate is reliability through the toughest of times. In the Northwest, our "for the people, by the people" electric system is a prime example. Communities served by not-for-profit utilities like Benton PUD, Franklin PUD, Big Bend Electric Coop, Columbia REA, Benton REA, and Umatilla Electric Coop -- to name a few -- have benefited from FDR's vision of hydropower providing fair access to electricity for rural communities.

That vision has been made possible by solid Northwest congressional bipartisan support for the Bonneville Power Administration and its hydropower resources, which include the four lower Snake River dams.

In Washington and Oregon, we are thankful for hydropower champions like U.S. Reps. Dan Newhouse, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, Peter DeFazio, Jaime Herrera-Beutler, Greg Walden, and Kurt Schrader, and for U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray, and Ron Wyden. Our elected officials realize that a clean, reliable, and affordable electric system sets the stage for many other policy objectives.

For example, in many parts of the country, low-income groups are likely to live in areas near coal plants or other polluting generation resources. Comparatively, in the Pacific Northwest, we have the most widespread access to renewable energy and the least carbon-intensive electric grid in the USA.

The Northwest also boasts the nation's most affordable clean energy prices. This is especially important because communities of color tend to carry a much larger utility burden as a percentage of their incomes. They are also less likely to be able to afford clean energy alternatives.

The importance of reliable, affordable, and renewable energy will not diminish under a Biden-Harris administration.

President-Elect Biden is on record as saying that climate change is an "existential threat" to humanity. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Biden's Clean Energy Plan shows that he is a strong hydropower supporter.

It's easy to understand why. As was noted in a recent joint statement by American Rivers and other advocacy groups, "...the parties recognize the role that U.S. hydropower plays as an important renewable energy resource and for integrating variable solar and wind power into the U.S. electric grid."

Washington's aggressive clean energy standard makes it virtually certain that the lower Snake River dams will remain in place. Even anti-dam organizations have estimated it would cost hundreds of million of dollars per year to replace them with other carbon-free resources, not to mention the tens of billions of dollars it will take to replace existing coal and gas-fired generators. These are real costs faced by real people.

Finally, as a strong proponent of science, a Biden administration will recognize that our hydropower resources are critical to reversing the trend of warming, acidifying ocean conditions.

Three formidable studies released this year strongly indicate the driver of coastwide salmon declines over the past 50 years is the effect of climate change in the ocean environment. As a University of Alaska researcher put it when comparing Alaskan salmon with Columbia Basin salmon, "We know that fish in the Columbia have also gotten smaller... Something is going on in their shared environment, which of course, is the ocean."

If these scientists are correct, then we can also be thankful that the lower Snake River dams are playing a critical role in fighting the climate crisis that threatens our salmon.

Kurt Miller is the executive director of Northwest RiverPartners (NWRP) -- a not-for-profit organization that advocates hydropower for a better Northwest.
Thankful for Snake River Dams
Tri-City Herald, November 23, 2020

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation