WA State Wire: Solving the Snake River Dams Debate; It’s Harder Than You Think

Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners which advocates in favor of hydropower, in this Op-Ed discusses why the Snake River dam issue is so difficult to resolve. The battle continues between those who want to remove the dams in a last ditch effort to save declining salmon and orca populations and those who argue that removing the dams will lead to regional power shortages, the loss of 37,000 acres of irrigated farmland, and the loss of barging for transportation of one million acres of wheat.

…Resolving salmon declines is a complicated and challenging task. Salmon cross many dynamic ecosystems, oceans and rivers are constantly in flux, and salmon are continuously forced to adapt and evolve.

For scientists, it’s impossible to control for all real-world variations, so we’re often left with assumption-laden models and anecdotes instead of evidence.

Consequently, hydroelectric supporters and dam breaching advocates both point to science to support their claims, but the picture is often incomplete.

We know the stakes are high, which makes compromise so difficult.

The dam advocate perspective:

Climate Crisis – Governor Jay Inslee described climate change as the “existential threat of our time.” It’s just as serious for salmon. NOAA Fisheries researcher Lisa Crozier has noted, “an almost synchronous decline” in worldwide salmon populations due to climate change. Given this context, removing carbon-free hydroelectric dams is a mistake.

Clean Energy Future – Hydroelectric dams provide roughly 80% of the region’s carbon-free electricity. They also help us safely add new intermittent renewables–like wind and solar–to the grid by filling in the gaps left by wind and sunshine. We need the lower Snake River dams to achieve our clean energy goals.

Regional BlackoutsWith thousands of megawatts of coal generation being shuttered, regional utility leaders have warned that the Northwest already faces a serious risk of blackouts. Without the dams, the threat would be amplified.

Energy EquityVulnerable communities rely on the lower Snake River dams for affordable, clean energy. Without these dams, many people who can least afford it will face rising power bills, increased pollution, the specter of blackouts, and the loss of an important economic base.

If the dams remain, others fear for Snake River salmon and Southern Resident orcas.

The dam-breaching advocate perspective:

Salmon Extinction – No one knows how long endangered salmon populations can survive before extinction. Given this lack of certainty, we have to act boldly now.

Orca Extinction – Native salmon populations struggle in the Salish Sea, where Southern Resident orcas mostly reside. If the Snake River salmon populations rebound, they could supplement the deficit in the Salish Sea and help the Southern Residents recover.

Nothing Else Has Worked – Northwest utility customers have invested billions in fish and wildlife programs to offset potential harm from dams. While in-river salmon survival has notably improved, too few adult salmon are returning from the ocean. Dam breaching is one of the only things we haven’t tried.

Cultural Significance – Tribal leaders fear the permanent loss of their cultural heritage and identities, should salmon not return in healthy numbers. Salmon are crucial to tribal health, economies, and religions, and the loss of salmon violates treaty rights…

Click here to read the entire article at Washington State Wire.