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Report Touting Benefits of Snake River
Dam Removal Stirs Controversy

by Kale Wiliams
East Oregonian, August 8, 2019

Lower Monumental dam on the Lower Snake River in the remote Southeastern Washington State, is being considered for removal. A new report from a Portland-based economics firm, which says the removal of dams on the Snake River in Eastern Washington would have broad financial benefits, is getting pushback from local politicians in the Tri-Cities area.

The report, released last week by ECONorthwest, lays out the financial case for removing the Ice Harbor, Lower Monument, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams, which sit on the Snake River between its confluence with the Columbia and the Idaho Border.

Using a cost-benefit analysis, the firm looked at a number of factors -- including hydropower generation, transportation, irrigation and recreational use of the river -- and concluded "the benefits of removal exceed the costs, and thus society would likely be better off without the dams."

Environmental groups have called for the removal of the dams to help struggling salmon populations. The dams create physical barriers to migrating fish and have created a series of shallow reservoirs that are easily warmed in hot weather. Many salmon species become stressed and develop diseases in water that is too warm.

But the dams also provide hydroelectric power and facilitate irrigation in the region and proponents argue, for those reasons, they should stay in place.

The most-controversial part of the ECONorthwest analysis comes in the form of "non-use values," benefits the public can expect from dam removal even though they will likely never be used. Those non-use values, estimated by the reports authors to be worth more than $8 billion, include "a restored natural river system and a reduced extinction risk of wild salmon," according to the report.

The non-use value is integral in determining whether or not the dams should be removed, according to the report.

"Non-use values are the key to measuring the true benefits of dam removal," the report says. "These values are valid and must be considered, and overwhelmingly provide a justification for removing the Lower Snake River Dams."

Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, a nonprofit that represents utilities, ports and businesses in the region, said the methodology used in the analysis, specifically to determine the non-use value, was flawed.

"This approach takes a sample of people, asks how much they’d pay for something, and then projects that amount across the entire population within a region or even the nation," Miller said in a statement. "It is a highly controversial technique because studies have found that respondents will generally overstate how much they would pay when you ask them about a specific cause."

Two Republican Congressional representatives from the area, Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, panned the analysis as well, calling it "a slap in the face of our state’s agricultural economy."

"It is another example of Seattle-based interests seeking to disrupt our way of life in Central and Eastern Washington," the pair said in a statement. "Increases in carbon emissions, higher electricity bills, and billions of dollars in infrastructure improvements that would be needed for irrigation and transportation hardly come across as a ‘public benefit.’ This report, like many others before it, fails to consider the consequences of dam breaching for communities and industries throughout the Northwest."

Representatives from ECONorthwest did not respond to a request for comment.

In 2002, the Army Corps of Engineers conducted an Environmental Impact Study on removing the dams from the Lower Snake River and concluded that doing so, on its own, would not help in endangered salmon recovery, but dam removal could be one of a series of steps that would help the imperiled fish. Another study of the environmental impact of the 14 dams on the Lower Snake and Columbia rivers is expected to be completed by 2021.

Kale Wiliams
Report Touting Benefits of Snake River Dam Removal Stirs Controversy
East Oregonian, August 8, 2019

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