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Economic and dam related articles

The Case for Partially Removing
Four Dams on the Lower Snake River

by Columbia & Snake Rivers Campaign - April 1999


Executive Summary
The Scientific Case
The Legal Basis
The Economic and Energy Effects

Executive Summary

Partially removing four lower Snake River dams is the best means of ensuring survival of five endangered Snake River salmon and steelhead trout species. After 25 years of studies, there is solid scientific consensus that restoring natural river flows is the surest, and probably only, way to recover these fish. Numerous legal obligations in the form of treaties and federal statutes require salmon recovery. Economic analysis, although incomplete, shows partial dam removal will produce net social benefits. An investment plan for local people, businesses and communities is needed to ensure that economies are strengthened as salmon are restored.


Rescuing Snake and Columbia River salmon and steelhead trout from extinction is one of America's foremost environmental and economic challenges. Will salmon disappear or once again thrive in the rivers of Lewis and Clark? The people of the Northwest and nation will answer this question in 1999 and 2000, as the Clinton/Gore administration and Congress, in concert with Northwest states and Indian tribes, decide on recovery measures for these fish.

The first and biggest decision will be made in December 1999: how to restore Snake River salmon and steelhead. When Lewis and Clark encountered the Snake River (and the Indian people who helped save their lives) in 1805, five to eight million wild adult salmon returned from the Pacific Ocean to the Snake each year. Today, as we near the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark's expedition, a mere five thousand wild salmon, of all species, return to the Snake. All five species of Snake River salmon and steelhead are listed under the Endangered Species Act, headed toward extinction. The primary reason is that eight federal dams and reservoirs now lie between the inland streams where salmon are born and the ocean where they spend most of their lives.

As of April 1999, some 230 organizations nationwide -- Indian tribes and conservation, fishing, business and taxpayer groups -- have joined to support one major measure without which Snake River salmon will go extinct. That measure is partial removal of four federal dams on the lower Snake River to re-create 140 miles of free-flowing river and habitat. ("Partial removal" means only the earthen section of each dam is removed; the concrete section remains and the re-created river flows around it.) The Clinton/Gore administration will decide, in December 1999, whether to support this action.

This paper summarizes the case for partially removing the four lower Snake River dams -- four out of 200-plus dams in the Columbia River Basin. The idea sounds radical, but it is not. It makes sense, for the Northwest and nation. It will work. It is cost-effective and affordable. It will strengthen the Northwest economy. Investments to protect people and towns hurt by partial dam removal are possible. By restoring these salmon to the river, Americans will keep our treaty promises to Indian tribes and Canada. The Lewis and Clark bicentennial will be a celebration of our heritage, not a funeral for our salmon.

After years of studies, there is solid scientific consensus that the surest, and probably only, way to recover Snake River salmon is to remove parts of the four Lower Snake River dams to restore natural river flows. This paper summarizes that consensus. On March 16, 1999, a letter signed by 206 Northwest scientists was sent to President Clinton saying in part, "The weight of scientific evidence clearly shows that wild Snake River salmon and steelhead runs cannot be recovered under existing river conditions. Enough time remains to restore them, but only if the failed practices of the past are abandoned and we move quickly to restore the normative river conditions under which these fish evolved. . . .Biologically, the choice of how to best recover these fish is clear, and the consequences of maintaining the status quo are all but certain."

Economic analysis to date, summarized below, shows this action will produce net social benefits. Fishing and recreation economies from northern California to Alaska will grow by several hundred million dollars annually. Electricity from the four dams can be replaced from clean energy sources and still leave Northwesterners with the lowest electric rates in the nation. Bypassing the dams will sacrifice nothing in flood control, since these "run-of-the-river" dams provide none. River navigation on the Lower Snake, a highly subsidized transportation route, can be replaced by affordable improvements to regional rail and truck infrastructures. Taxpayers will avoid many millions of dollars in maintenance, rehabilitation, and subsidy costs associated with the dams.

Treaties with Indian tribes and Canada as well as acts of Congress have set standards for fish survival and water quality that can be met only by returning the river's natural flow. Both the Endangered Species Act and the Northwest Power Act demand fish-friendly decision-making and require it to be based on best available science, the preponderance of which identifies dam bypass as the most certain way to save these salmon from extinction. We look at those laws and treaties below.

Northwesterners and Americans want salmon back. Since the early 1990s, Northwest polls have consistently shown 60- to 85-percent support for restoring salmon, and willingness to pay the few extra dollars each month needed to do it. National television, newspaper, magazine, and editorial interest in Snake River salmon and dams shows that people across the nation care about salmon and this choice about their future.

All the information and analysis is not in. Much more will be released before the December 1999 decision. And we know that dams aren't the only problem for salmoneffective measures also are needed to protect spawning and rearing habitats, regulate fishing and ensure that hatchery operations do not harm wild fish. But we know enough now to say with confidence that

"The next big test for river restoration is approaching on the lower Snake River and its four salmon killing dams. And it will be an epic debate, rivaling the great controversies of past years over Hetch Hetchy and Dinosaur National Monument." Bruce Babbit, OpenSpaces, Vol 1:4, 1998.


The Snake River is the largest tributary of the Columbia River. Up to 45 percent of all Columbia Basin chinook salmon once hatched in the Snake's tributaries, such as Idaho's famed Salmon River. At age one or two, millions of juvenile fish, called smolts, were carried by annual spring floods some 600 miles to the Pacific Ocean, then returned upstream as adults a year or two later to spawn and die, enriching the waters and nearby soils to benefit their young and other species.

Prior to construction of the Snake River dams, the returning adult runs supported a 40 percent harvest rate, providing thousands of fishing-based jobs to the Northwest economy. Then came the dams. Salmon stocks that averaged more than 100,000 adults in the 1960s fell to barely 2,000 fish in 1995. Today, no harvest of wild spring and summer chinook salmon from the Snake River is allowed, except for a tiny ceremonial tribal fishery. How did this happen?

All Snake River salmon must traverse 140 miles of the lower Snake River after it leaves Idaho and passes through Washington to the Columbia River. Today this reach is not free-flowing. It is a series of slow-moving backwaters behind four federal dams built and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These and four more Army Corps dams on the lower Columbia are part of the Federal Columbia River Power System, a taxpayer-funded project that generates electricity sold by Bonneville Power Administration.

These eight dams destroyed important spawning areas and now pose deadly hurdles to salmon and steelhead migrating both upstream and downstream. Although many other factors have contributed, individually and cumulatively, to dwindling fish populations, the principal cause leading to the decline and subsequent listing of these salmon under the Endangered Species Act is the construction and operation of these dams.

In 1995, after its first salmon "recovery" plan was rejected by a federal judge, the Clinton/Gore administration adopted an interim plan for Snake River salmon. Its centerpiece, then and today, is fish barging and trucking: siphon migrating juvenile salmon from the river, pipe them into barges and trucks, carry them past the dams and dump them back in the river below the last dam. This interim plan has failed; the decline to extinction has continued. The 1999 adult return of Snake River salmon is projected to be the lowest or second-lowest in history.

The next step is adoption of a long-term recovery plan. The Clinton/Gore administration must decide, in December 1999, on one of three main alternatives:

Snake River Listings, Endangered Species Act
1986 - Coho declared extinct
1991 - Sockeye listed as endangered
1992 - Chinook listed as threatened
1994 - Chinook listed as endangered
1997 - Steelhead listed as threatened

The Scientific Case for Partial Removal of the Lower Snake River Dams

Current smolt-to-adult return rates for spring and summer chinook are less than one-half of one percentthat is, for every 100 smolts (migrating young salmon) that head for the ocean, less than one-half of one adult fish returns two to three years later. This return rate is four times below the rate needed for replacement, and far less than the four-percent rate, last recorded in the 1960s, needed to rebuild salmon stocks.

These dismal returns reflect two failures: in existing in-river migration conditions, and in fish barging and trucking. Each year, 50 percent to 80 percent of smolts are collected at lower Snake dams, loaded on trucks or barges, and transported downstream past Bonneville Dam. The rest migrate in-river. Recent studies ratify the real-world results: neither the barging/trucking program, nor status-quo river conditions, can restore salmon, and neither should be part of a long-term recovery plan. Studies comparing fish barging to existing in-river migration are largely irrelevant to salmon recovery, since both are failures.

What will succeed? The official Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) for Columbia/Snake salmon has stated the general scientific consensus crisply: "Return to the River." Migration conditions in the river must be returned toward those under which the salmon evolved and thrived.

Taking up where the ISAB left off is PATH, the other official science process for Columbia/Snake salmon. PATH (Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypotheses) was given the task of predicting whether specific measures would restore salmon. PATH is conducting the most rigorous, technically-based natural resource decision-making analysis ever done, anywhere. Federal, state, tribal and independent scientists are teamed in PATH. Uncertainties that cannot be resolved are explicitly recognized and factored into the analysis. An independent scientific panel provides rigorous peer review of PATH results.

Salmon Science Chronology

1993 Detailed Fishery Operating Plan, Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority: Fish barging as last resort; recommended a more natural river via reservoir drawdowns Apr. 15-Dec 1 and flow augmentation from upstream reservoirs.

1994 Independent Peer Review of Transportation, NMFS, USFWS, state fisheries agencies, treaty Indian tribes panel: "available evidence is not sufficient to identify transportation [fish barging] as either a primary or supporting method of choice for salmon recovery..."

1995 National Research Council Report, NRC: rely on natural regenerative processes in the long term and selected use of technology and human effort in the short term.

1995 Tribal Restoration Plan, Columbia Basin treaty fishing tribes: recommended immediate termination of fish barging, permanent reservoir drawdowns to restore natural river functions.

1996 "Return to the River" Report, Northwest Power Planning Council Independent Science Group: recommended "normative river conditions" (restoration of ecological processes consistent with the needs of native fish and wildlife species), and restoring mainstem spawning habitat.

1998 Idaho Department of Fish and Game Report, IDFG: found dams are primary cause of Snake River salmon decline; set standard of 2- to 6-percent smolt-to-adult survival for recovery; advised using "normative river" to achieve this standard because fish barging program cannot.

1998 PATH Preliminary Decision Analysis Report and Weight of Evidence Workshop, Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypotheses interagency working group: concluded "The natural river option is now the best biological choice regardless of which model is used." Bypassing the lower Snake dams would double the chances for recovering Snake River spring/summer chinook populations within 48 years. Barging all possible fish would lower recovery chances to 35 percent.

In December 1998, PATH released its most complete report to date. The report concluded that within 24 years, partially removing the lower Snake River dams has an 80 percent and 100 percent probability, respectively, of recovering Snake River spring/summer chinook and fall chinook. The report also stated that fish barging programs, either current or maximized, have less than a 50 percent probability of recovery. Regardless of assumptions made or model used, dam removal was always the highest-ranked recovery option, and the one with the least amount of outcome uncertainty.

PATH scientists also examined the predicted results of modifying harvest rates and habitat management upstream of the dams, and of reducing bird predation on juvenile salmon. These "sensitivity analyses" tentatively concluded that harvest, habitat and bird predation reforms cannot substitute for partially removing the lower Snake dams in restoring Snake River salmon.

PATH found no factual support for the contention that ocean conditions are responsible for the decline of Snake River stocks. These fish reach the Pacific Ocean at the same time and use the same estuary and near-shore habitat as lower Columbia stocks, but the latter have not experienced similar declines. Ocean conditions, the only variables independent of the hydro system, were discredited as the cause of the declines.

A minority of scientists argue that the lower Snake dams are not the primary problem. Their most recent focus is on data showing that juvenile survival through the dams in 1998 was much higher than estimated by PATH's primary passage model. There are difficulties with that data: 1998 was a high-water year when better survival would be expected; large error bands surround the data; and delayed mortality is not accounted for as it is in PATH's model. Regardless, this one year's data does not undermine the key fact reflected over 25 years: Adult salmon returns to the Snake River are extremely low and declining, and this trend has been consistent since the four lower Snake dams were built.

We won't know until 2000-2001 if the estimated higher 1998 juvenile survival will lead to higher adult returns, but there is no basis in past information for predicting that it will. High mortalities associated with the lower Snake dams may be immediate or delayed, but PATH's rigorous review of decades of data concluded that they exist.

Furthermore, although PATH modeling has focused primarily on spring/summer chinook because of the quality and amount of available data, juvenile fall chinook survival is more closely linked to water flow and temperature conditions than spring/summer chinook. The dams create adverse flow and temperature conditions. In addition, fall chinook are killed more frequently by screened bypass systems than spring/summer chinook. This factual evidence is consistent with preliminary PATH fall chinook analysis, which shows that fall chinook recovery is even less likely than spring/summer chinook recovery with the dams in place.

While studies can and should continue right up to the December 1999 decision, the ISAB and PATH studies show a strong, peer-reviewed scientific consensus that trucking and barging juvenile salmon has failed and will never restore populations of Snake River salmon. PATH and ISAB also reflect the growing scientific consensus that partially removing the lower Snake dams, and thereby restoring more natural river conditions, is the best option for recovery. These conclusions were delivered to President Clinton in the March 1999 letter from more than 200 Northwest scientists quoted above.

The Legal Basis for Partial Dam Removal

Partially removing the four lower Snake River dams is the only option likely to comply with laws and treaties regarding the Snake River and Snake River salmon. If left unresolved, these issues have the potential to significantly impair water rights and water uses throughout the Snake River Basin for many years to come and require expensive reparations from the federal treasury.

The debate about the legal necessity of partial dam removal typically has been narrowly focused on whether removal is necessary to comply with the Endangered Species Act's prohibition against causing "jeopardy" to listed salmon and steelhead. Often neglected, however, are other legal requirements that likely would not be met if the dams remain in placeeven if the ESA's "jeopardy" hurdle could be surmounted, which is unlikely given the strong scientific evidence supporting the need for partial dam removal.

Below, we first address the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, which are driving the December 1999 decision point. Second, we discuss the broader legal context for this decision, including Indian treaty rights, the Clean Water Act, the Pacific Salmon Treaty and legal issues related to potential constraints on upstream water users.

Endangered Species Act

The ESA prohibits all federal actions that could jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or that adversely affect their designated critical habitat. In determining whether a federal action meets this standard, the federal government must use the "best scientific and commercial data available."

The best scientific evidence presently available has been developed through the PATH process. The 1998 PATH report and subsequent analysis reveals that for both spring/summer chinook and fall chinook, only the partial dam removal option exceeds the 50 percent survival "jeopardy" standard used by the Clinton/Gore administration in its 1995 Biological Opinion (BiOp). However, as discussed below, merely meeting the ESA's survival standard is not enough to avoid liability.

Moreover, even were it possible to satisfy the jeopardy standard through fish barging, the argument is strong that the ESA requires recovering fish in their natural habitat. Thus, barging fish may not be an option. A federal court recently found that this question will be "ripe" for judicial review once the administration makes its 1999 decision.

"Biologically, the choice of how to best recover these fish is clear, and the consequences of maintaining the status quo are all but certain." Northwest scientists' letter to President Clinton, March 22, 1999

Treaty Reserved Fishing Rights

The Treaties signed between the federal government and the Columbia Basin Tribes in 1855 and 1856 guarantee the Tribes the "right of taking fish" at their usual and accustomed fishing sites. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that this entitles the Tribes to half of the Columbia Basin salmon harvest. [Washington v. Washington State Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel Ass'n., 443 U.S. 658 (1979).]

Although unsettled, a strong argument has been made that treaty fishing rights also prohibit actions that reduce fish production to levels below those necessary for the treaty tribes to make a "moderate living." Thus, unless runs are restored to harvestable levels, which is highly unlikely with the dams in place, the federal government remains vulnerable to legal action by the Columbia River tribes, even if the ESA's "jeopardy" standard can be satisfied.

In short, saving salmon as a "museum piece" is not sufficient; restoring harvestable stocks is the only solution. If harvestable stocks are not restored, federal taxpayers could be on the hook to compensate the tribes for their lost right to harvest salmon. The tribes refuse, on religious grounds, to estimate what that compensation might be, but others have pegged it between $6 and $12 billion.

Such a claim could be based on lost fish value. A 1996 study, "The Cost of Doing Nothing," used widely accepted economic methods to calculate a net asset value of $13 billion for Columbia Basin salmon. Snake River salmon, historically half of total Columbia Basin salmon production, would thus have a net asset value of $6.5 billion. Or a claim could be based on lost land value. In treaties that guaranteed the tribes the right to fish for salmon, the tribes ceded 6.2 million acres of land to the United States. At $2,000 per acre, the value of that tribal grant was $12.4 billion.

Clean Water Act

In 1997, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Oregon and Washington water quality agencies put the Army Corps of Engineers on notice that it is out of compliance with temperature and total dissolved gas standards at its Snake River dams. [(Letter from Chuck Clark, EPA Regional Administrator for Region 10, to Brigadier General Robert H. Griffin, Commander, North Pacific Division, USACE (December 9, 1997))]. The Army Corps is legally obligated to comply with state water quality standards. [See Oregon Natural Resources Council v. U.S. Forest Service, 834 F.2d 842 (9th Cir. 1987)].

Modeling done by EPA has shown that the four dams cause temperatures in the lower Snake River to exceed, much more frequently than they would under natural conditions, the 20 degree Celsius water quality standard set by the state of Washington. In addition, studies by the United States Geological Survey have shown that high water temperatures in the lower Snake reservoirsparticularly during the late summer and early fallsignificantly reduce the survival of outmigrating juvenile fall chinook salmon. This also violates Washington's water quality standards.

Short of partially removing the dams, no inexpensive solutions exist to remedy these temperature problems. A potential option might be installing very expensive cooling units at each dam. Obtaining additional water from the Snake or Clearwater Rivers upstream of the dams could ameliorate the violations to varying degrees, depending on yearly conditions. Partial dam removal would obviate the large expenditures associated with either of these options, and would better comply with the Clean Water Act.

On March 31, 1999, the National Wildlife Federation and other parties filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers for violating the Clean Water Act at its four lower Snake River dams.

Pacific Salmon Treaty

In 1985, the United States and Canada signed the Pacific Salmon Treaty, which defined joint management and conservation responsibilities for the transboundary salmon resource. [(Treaty Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Canada Concerning Pacific Salmon, T.I.A.S. No. 11,091 (January 28, 1985))]. One of the Treaty's key principles is that "each party shall conduct its fisheries and its salmon enhancement programs so as to . . . provide for each Party to receive benefits equivalent to the production of salmon originating in its waters." [(Id. art. III(1)(b))].

The failure of the U.S. to maintain Columbia/Snake River runs at levels sufficient to offset the harvest of Canada-origin fish in Alaska fisheries has been a major factor in the recent collapse of Treaty allocation negotiations. The plummeting Columbia/Snake salmon runs have rendered the Treaty virtually unworkable and constrain harvest opportunities from California to Alaska. The result has been serious and growing friction with Canada. Like the situation with the Native American tribes, compliance with the Pacific Salmon Treaty and good relations with Canada will require restoring healthy, harvestable Columbia and Snake River salmon.

Legal Constraints on Upriver Users

A decision to retain the four lower Snake dams will have significant ramifications for upriver water users and result in legal battles pitting the federal government against the State of Idaho and irrigators. This stems from the fact that any alternative recovery plan will almost certainly have to rely on a large volume of upstream water to improve in-river migration conditions and cool water temperatures.

Since 1995, under the Clinton/Gore administration's interim recovery plan, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has provided from upstream sources a modest 427,000 acre-feet of water annually for salmon flows to and through the dams. This has occurred with the concurrence of the State of Idaho, but the 1999 Idaho Legislature chose not to renew the authorizing legislation for that small amount.

The biological need for more water, in the absence of partial dam removal, is clear, especially for migrating fall chinook in the summer months when flows are lowest and temperatures highest. In its 1994 fish and wildlife program, the Northwest Power Planning Council called for an additional 1 million acre-feet, bringing the total to 1.427 million acre-feet. Columbia River Treaty Tribes have called for an additional 1 million to 3 million acre-feet. The Bureau of Reclamation is analyzing the cost and impacts of obtaining an additional 1 million acre-feet.

If substantially more water is needed to provide better in-river migration conditions, an ominous legal issue will be joined. Federal efforts to obtain more water from upstream sources will pit the Endangered Species Act against Idaho irrigators who hold valid state water rights. The controlling law is that the Bureau of Reclamation must first satisfy the mandates of the Endangered Species Act before delivering water to irrigators. [Natural Resources Defense Council v. Houston, 146 F.3d 1118, 1127 (9th Cir. 1998)].

Partially removing the four lower Snake dams would drastically reduce or eliminate the need for additional upstream water, and thus avoid this legal showdown.

To summarize, partially removing the four lower Snake dams seems the one sure way to:

The Economic and Energy Effects of Bypassing the Lower Snake Dams

Northwesterners want to restore salmon to the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Most understand that changes up to and including partial dam removal may be needed to accomplish this. But they ask basic, practical questions: What are the benefits and what are the costs? How much will my power rates go up? What about the towns and people who will be hurt? Is bypassing the four lower Snake dams more cost-effective than keeping them?

At this time, economic analysis of these questions is incomplete. But enough is known to begin providing answers. It suggests we can afford to bypass these four dams, and bypass will be more cost-effective than other options on the table. It suggests that Northwest power rates will rise a little but still remain the lowest in the nation. And it suggests an economic transition strategy can provide investments to protect local economies at the dams, while capturing significant regional and national economic benefits.

We will not attempt here to add up numbers toward some "final" economic conclusion. Too much is still unknown and, in any case, numbers alone will not ultimately determine our decisions about salmon and dams. Rather, we need enough economic information to help us make choices reasonably and prudently.

Economic and Energy Analysis for December 1999 Decision

Official economic analysis for the 1999 Decision is underway within the Drawdown Regional Economic Workgroup (DREW). DREW is a set of committees composed of economists and analysts from government, tribes, universities and the private sector. Directed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, DREW is examining, sector by sector, the economic effects of the basic alternatives for restoring Snake River salmon and steelhead.

All DREW information is still in preliminary form, but much has been made public. Some analyses (for instance, the energy replacement analysis) are more advanced and accepted than others. The Corps plans to issue the full DREW reports in August 1999. Most of the numbers below are derived from DREW preliminary reports.

While producing valuable information to help the Northwest and nation decide how to restore Snake River salmon, DREW also has limitations. DREW is basically producing numbers. It is not producing an economic transition strategy that captures the benefits of restoring Snake River salmon, equitably and efficiently distributes the costs, and provides investments that protect people and towns hurt by salmon recovery measures. The Northwest's ancient forest/spotted owl controversy surely showed us the need for such a strategy.

An economic and community transition strategy associated with Snake River salmon recovery is the single most important piece missing as the Northwest and nation move toward the December 1999 decision. It should be developed regionally with leadership from the Clinton/Gore administration, and be completed by October 1999, to allow time for public review and discussion before December.

We need an economic transition strategy that captures the benefits of restoring fish, equitably and efficiently distributes the costs, and provides investments that protect people and towns hurt by salmon recovery measures.

Energy costs and electric rate impacts of partial dam removal

The four lower Snake River dams produce about 500 megawatts (MW) during winter and late summer, when energy prices are high, and 2000 MW during spring when prices are lowest; the average is 1136 MW. Replacing this energy is estimated to cost between $150 million and $300 million per year (the range is wide because of many variables.) The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) estimates the cost of assuring transmission system reliability at another $15 million per year.

In March 1999, BPA estimated that partial removal of the lower Snake dams would increase its base rate, between now and 2006, from about 20 mills (two cents) per kilowatt-hour to between 20.5 mills and 23.3 mills, depending on the removal schedule. From 2007 on, BPA estimated its base rate would increase from about 22 mills to 27 mills if removal is phased in. In both time periods, these BPA rates remain well below the estimated market rate for electricity. This estimate assumes that all costs of bypassing the dams are paid by BPA customers, including deconstruction costs, mitigation for irrigators and shippers, and replacement electricity costs. The BPA estimate also showed that every recovery strategy except those that continue the status quowhich is not a legal optionwill have a roughly equivalent effect on its rates.

The impact on household electric rates will vary by utility. A report in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in January 1999 stated that the effect of lower Snake dam removal on an average Seattle household's power bill probably would be less than $1 per month. Utilities that buy a greater share of their total power from BPA would see a higher increase, from $2 to $5 per month. Utilities that buy a lesser share from BPA, such as Tacoma City Light, would see a smaller increase. If the region chooses, it would be possible to adjust these rate effects for greater equity.

In short, lower Snake dam removal will leave the Northwest with the lowest electric rates in the nation and a healthy Bonneville Power Administration, while restoring salmon.

Replacing the lower Snake dams' energy with clean energy

Advocates of bypassing the lower Snake dams support replacing their energy generation from "clean energy" sources: energy conservation and renewable energy. A draft report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Northwest Energy Coalition, due for release in mid-1999, identifies a combination of cost-effective energy conservation and new wind, solar and geothermal power resources, which could be brought on line over time to entirely replace the average 1136 megawatts provided by the lower Snake dams. Indeed, these replacements would better match seasonal energy use patterns. By displacing the less efficient, dirtier coal- and oil-fired resources used when hydropower is in short supply, conservation and renewables would reduce carbon emissions from the electricity system as a whole, resulting in cleaner air.

The cost of replacing the dams' output from these clean sources is only slightly higher than the cost of replacing it on the open energy

An economic and community transition strategy associated with Snake River salmon recovery is the single most important piece missing as the Northwest and nation move toward the December 1999 decision.

Direct costs of bypassing the lower Snake dams

DREW reports estimate the direct costs of bypassing at $800 million to $1.1 billion; amortized, this is $60 million to $90 million per year. This estimate includes removing the earthen portion of each dam and associated construction. It also includes physical mitigation at and near the dams and reservoirs such as relocating and modifying culverts, sewage and industry outfalls or shoring up bridge piers, highway and railroad embankments. It does not include mitigation for specific affected users. This annual cost of bypassing the dams is about $25 million a year more than the cost of the failed status quo ($63 million to $68 million a year).

The cost to replace inland navigation

Partial removal of the four lower Snake dams will eliminate barge transportation, primarily of agricultural commodities, on the lower Snake River. Commodities now barged about 140 miles on the dammed reachabout 4 million tons per yearwould shift to railroads and to barges operating from Washington's Tri-Cities area, where the Snake joins the Columbia River. Army Corps estimates suggest that about 60 percent of commodities now barged on the Snake would move to rail, with the remainder trucked to the Tri-Cities for barging to export ports in the Portland area.

A preliminary Army Corps study estimated this shift in transportation would cost $47 million per year above current costs, and that upgrades and additions to the rail network could be made without significantly impacting rates.

A 1999 Washington State University study estimates that without the dams, Washington grain shippers would pay a penny to nine cents more per bushel for transportation. The low range would occur if railroad and highway service is "unconstrained"that is, there are no infrastructure bottlenecks, such as lack of rail car availability.

In a 1999 study for the Washington Legislative Transportation Committee, HDR Engineers estimated that improving highway and rail infrastructure would cost, at the high end, $315 million in one-time expenses. It is important to note that some of these improvements are needed and desired in eastern Washington with or without dam bypass.

Such improvements could build on the Washington Grain Train program, a cooperative initiative that has purchased a dedicated grain car fleet to augment eastern Washington rail shipping. A 1996 evaluation of that program showed it is paying for itself more quickly than projected. The federal Transportation Equity Act, which has authorized rail freight matching and loan funds, also could support some of the infrastructure investments.

The impacts on, and investment strategies to assist, lower Snake commodity shippers are receiving intensified analysis, which should produce much better information by mid-1999. Decision makers and interested parties should pay close attention as the new information emerges.

The cost of flood control replacement

There is no flood control replacement cost. These four dams provide no flood control. They are "run-of-the-river" dams, which do not store water.

The cost to local irrigation

Only Ice Harbor Dam, of the four lower Snake dams, provides irrigation. Thirteen corporate farms pump irrigation water from the Ice Harbor pool, irrigating about 37,000 acres. Partial dam removal would lower the river below the level at which these farms now draw their water. The Army Corps estimates the annual cost of changes to allow water withdrawals from the restored river at $20 million per year. Since the market value of this farmland is estimated at only $11 million per year, a buyout at that value is the least-cost mitigation option.

Direct savings from bypassing the lower Snake dams

The region and nation will avoid substantial costs that must be incurred if these dams remain in operation. For instance, major re-winding of the four lower Snake dams' generators is scheduled within 20 years, and again 40 years later. This avoided cost, if the dams are bypassed, is estimated at $420 million, amortized at $33 million per year. Operation and maintenance costs for the four dams, about $25 million per year, also would be saved.

But the largest category of savings lies in the simple principle embodied in partial dam removal: spending money to succeed in saving salmon, rather than spending it on continued failure.

Some of the recovery options being considered as alternatives to partial dam removal cost more, some less, and some about the same. If estimated costs of the "no dam bypass" options being examined are averaged together, BPA's fish and wildlife program costs will range between $440 million and $700 million annually over the next 15 years. (The option that includes lower Snake dam bypass costs from $440 million to $855 million annually over the same period.)

Much of the money in these "no dam bypass" options would be spent on a raft of old and new engineering projects to make the dams more "fish friendly." Examples include extended-length screens, juvenile bypass facilities, adult passage improvements and new fish barges. A major new project being tested and planned for installation is "surface collector/bypass systems" at the dams; a December 1998 DREW estimate put its cost alone at $82 million to $250 million.

Unfortunately, this entire gamut of "fish-friendly" add-ons at the dams has a terrible track record. Hundreds of millions of dollars already have been spent on such projectsand salmon have continued to decline. In recent Congressional testimony, the Army Corps' Pacific Division commander admited that these damsólike most large damsówill never be "fish friendly."

If these hundreds of millions of dollars were instead invested in a recovery measure that will workpartial dam removalwe would stop the vast waste that typifies salmon recovery spending today and so frustrates the people of the Northwest and the nation who pay for it.

The PATH report concluded that within 24 years, partially removing the lower Snake River dams has an 80 percent and 100 percent probability, respectively, of recovering Snake River spring/summer chinook and fall chinook.

Savings if extinction is avoided

The cost in dollars of Snake River salmon extinction cannot be precisely estimated, nor is it the largest cost of extinction. But as noted in "The Legal Basis for Partial Dam Removal," the price tag for abrogating the nation's treaties with Columbia River Indian tribes could be very high: $6 billion to $12 billion. Snake River salmon extinction also will have other large dollar costs, primarily from lost salmon fishing in perpetuity. But the treaty reparation estimates suggest what U.S. taxpayers, Northwest ratepayers, or both could end up paying if the lower Snake dames are not bypassed before the fishes' decline to extinction becomes irreversible.

The economic benefits of restoring Snake River salmon

Historically, the salmon industry was a diverse collection of service, retail, industrial and manufacturing businesses located from Northern California to Alaska and inland almost to Wyoming. Much of it depended on salmon produced in the Snake and Columbia rivers. This industry has been badly damaged, almost entirely without mitigation, by federal dams and reservoirs on those rivers.

The salmon industry will benefit substantially from restoration of Snake River salmon. A preliminary DREW report indicated the sportfishing benefit will be in the range of $293 million to $452 million per year. The commercial fishing benefit was estimated at $172 million per year in another preliminary report, and the non-fishing recreation benefit at $322 million to $548 million per year. Forthcoming DREW reports will analyze tribal economic benefits and U.S.-Canada Treaty benefits, which are not included in the numbers above.

All these benefits will take five to 25 years to develop. It is important to note that most depend upon restoring fishable populations of Snake River salmon, not "museum piece" recovery.

Investment to protect local people and communities

The economic analysis to date, while incomplete, suggests that an investment plan to protect local people and communities is practical, especially if local fishing and recreation benefits from partial dam removal are built into it. Most of this investment would be in infrastructure improvements that make sense for the local economy whether or not the lower Snake dams are bypassed.

Northwest conservationists, anglers and fishing businesses support, and will help assure funding for, such an investment plan. The largest gap in the Clinton/Gore administration's current analysis of Snake River options is that no transition and investment plan is being developed.

Most benefits of salmon restoration depend upon restoring fishable populations of Snake River salmon, not "museum piece" recovery.


Much scientific and economic analysis remains to be finished. We will revise this case for partially removing the lower Snake River dams as new information becomes available.

But we believe the basic argument is compelling and will remain so. Although it sounds radical, partial dam removal is a common-sense step for the Northwest and the nation. It will work to restore salmon. It is cost-effective when compared with other options, including extinction. It is affordable, and the Northwest still will enjoy the lowest electric rates in the country. An investment plan that protects local people and communities can be implemented as the dams are being bypassed.

With the free-flowing lower Snake River restored, once again salmon and humans will thrive, together, where Indian people welcomed Lewis and Clark 200 years ago.

For more information on the COLUMBIA & SNAKE RIVERS CAMPAIGN:

Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition
975 John Street, #204
Seattle WA 98109


Rob Masonis
150 Nickerson St., # 311
Seattle WA 98109

Scott Yates
213 SW Ash, Suite 211
Portland OR 97204

Steven Weiss
1130 SW Morrison St., #330
Portland OR 97205

Steve Wise
P.O. Box 8787
Portland OR 97207

Kris Soderstrom
6512 23rd Avenue NW, #320
Seattle WA 98117

Review and Editing:

Pat Ford
Boise, ID

Jim Baker
Pullman, WA

Diane Ronayne
Boise, ID

Design and Production:

Gary Richardson
Boise, ID


The authors and editors are indebted to Michael C. Blumm, Laird J. Lucas, Don B. Miller, Daniel J. Rohlf and Glen H. Spain for their comprehensive and lucid discussion of the issues surrounding salmon restoration in "Saving Snake River Water and Salmon Simultaneously: The Biological, Economic, and Legal case for Breaching the Lower Snake River Dams, Lowering John Day Reservoir, and Restoring Natural River Flows," published in Environmental Law, Vol. 28:4, 1998, pp. 103-153. It is highly recommend for further reading.

Sources for this section are listed on page 4, in "Salmon Science Chronology."
Northwest Scientists' Letter to President Clinton, March 22, 1999.

Legal citations are listed within the body of this section.

Energy and Economics

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Various Drawdown Regional Economic Workgroup (DREW) reports:
"Avoided Cost Analysis," December 2, 1998.
Hydropower Impact Team (HIT) draft report, December 7, 1998.
PROSYM draft model results, December 3, 1998.
Transportation draft report, December 15, 1998.
"Recreation and Passive Use Values from Removing the Dams on the Lower Snake River to Increase Salmon," March 1999.
Testimony before the U.S. House Energy and Water Subcommittee, March 23, 1999, Brig. Gen. Robert Griffin, commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers North Pacific Division

Bonneville Power Administration
"Fish and Wildlife Cost Estimates," July 10, 1998.
"Very Approximate Impacts on BPA Rates of 13 (20) Fish and Wildlife Alternatives," March 3, 1999.

Institute for Fisheries Resources
"The Cost of Doing Nothing," The Economic Burden of Salmon Declines in the Columbia Basin, Vol. 1, 1996.

Washington State University
"Impact of Snake River Drawdown on Transportation of Grains in Eastern Washington: Competitive and Rail Car Constraints," Casavant and Jessup,Eastern Washington Intermodal Transportation Study, April 1999.

Washington Department of Transportation
"An Economic Evaluation of the Performance of the Washington State Department of Transportation Grain Train Project," Casavant and Mack, Olympia WA, 1996.

Tennessee Valley Authority
"The Incremental Cost of Transportation Capacity in Freight Railroading," Draft Report, July 1998.

Washington State Legislative Transportation Committee
"Lower Snake River Drawdown Study," Lund Consulting and HDR Engineering, Olympia WA, March 1999.
"Replacing Energy from Columbia River System Dams: Costs and Carbon Emissions," David Marcus (in press).

by Columbia & Snake Rivers Campaign
The Case for Partially Removing Four Dams on the Lower Snake River
American Rivers, April 1999

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