Unsustainable and indefensible: the new economics of the lower Snake River dams
The lower Snake River dams were originally conceived to establish a 140-mile shipping corridor that would connect to the Columbia River and create an inland seaport in Lewiston, Idaho. The dams’ energy capacity was added late in the planning process by the Army Corps of Engineers to increase the project’s overall economic benefit and improve the chances of Congressional approval - and appropriations.
While the dams’ anticipated impacts on salmon and steelhead populations was held understood - they were opposed at the time by all Northwest state’s fish and game departments - the net positive economic benefit asserted by the Army Corps went largely unchallenged in the 1960s. More recently, however, steeply declining salmon populations, a series of expensive, ineffective and illegal federal salmon plans, a determined lack of transparency by the federal dam agencies, and the rapidly changing market forces in the energy and transportation sectors has attracted new scrutiny about these four dams overall costs and benefits. Independent observers and a series of reports in recent years makes it increasingly difficult to justify further investment in these high-cost, low-value dams on the lower Snake.
Built last century, the four lower Snake River dams produce less than 1,000 aMW of electricity each year - about 4 percent of the Northwest’s supply. More recently, the cost of wind and solar has plummeted, the capacity from renewables expanded, and the regional electric grid is rapidly evolving. We’ve become much smarter about how we generate, consume, and manage electricity.
Our region, for example, has recently developed 2,500+ average megawatts (aMW) from wind, solar, geothermal and biomass energy - with more currently under construction. And we’ve saved 5,500+ aMW of electricity in the last several decades through smart investments in energy efficiency. While the cost of renewables has plunged, the cost of maintaining and operating these four aging federal dams is steadily rising.
Trends on the transportation corridor are similar: decreasing demand and increasing costs. Shipping on the lower Snake River has declined by 70% in the last two decades. Private/public investments are expanding rail networks locally and helped facilitate a shift by many farmers and other businesses to transport their products by train rather than barge.
Our greatest asset is our ingenuity and ability to adapt. We don't have to choose between wild salmon, affordable low-carbon energy and reliable transportation. Working together, the people of the Northwest and the nation can craft a lawful, scientifically- and economically-sound plan that restores our wild salmon and meets the energy and transportation needs of the region’s communities.
Tri-City Herald Guest Opinion: Costly dams are harmful to salmon, tribes, and taxpayers
By Julian Matthews and Lin Laughy
December 4, 2016
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., has called on Congress to protect federal hydroelectric dams as a “top priority.” (Tri City Herald, “Newhouse Pushes for Law Protecting Snake River Dams,” Nov. 10).
This plea asks Americans to stay on a course that hastens the disappearance of salmon from our rivers, continues to burn through taxpayers’ hard-earned money at a substantial loss, and adds insult to the injury by reneging on promises made to First Nations people more than 150 years ago.
Many salmon runs have already vanished, but if we take appropriate action now as stewards of the natural world, we can still conserve the resources we care about. No one understands this better than the Nez Perce tribal community, which has relied on salmon as a traditional and essential food since time immemorial. Under the 1855 Treaty, the Nez Perce are guaranteed hunting, fishing and gathering rights. The removal of the four Lower Snake dams would go a long way towards restoring these treaty rights.
Lewiston Morning Tribune: Waterways exec: dams aren't doomed
By CHELSEA EMBREE
Thursday, April 7, 2016
The dams on the Columbia-Snake River system aren't going away anytime soon.
With government-funded projects on the horizon - including repairs to locks scheduled for this winter - and a number already completed, Kristin Meira argued Wednesday that the government is putting in decades-long investments into the dams.
Meira, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, addressed a crowd of more than 60 community members at a luncheon Wednesday at Clarkston's Quality Inn. She discussed projects on the river system and addressed criticism of the four lower Snake River dams.
The latest batch of criticism of the dams, Meira said, ties the Snake River dams to the fate of orcas that live in Puget Sound.
"Those orca populations are steadily trending upward, as we see more fish being provided out of the river system out into the ocean for the orcas to eat," she said.
Tri-City Herald: Port of Pasco may sell crane, end container business
February 28, 2016
By Wendy Culverhill
A big, red Pasco landmark could soon become a victim of falling demand for container barging on the Columbia River.
The Port of Pasco is poised to sell a crane that it hasn’t used in five years, acknowledging its container barge business is all but dead and unlikely to return. Randy Hayden, the port’s executive director, reluctantly recommended Thursday that the port sell its Manitowoc 4100. The port commission discussed the state of marine affairs but made no decisions.
The crane has stood sentry at the marine terminal in Big Pasco Industrial Center, north of the cable bridge, since 2000. The port bought it from a Houston broker for $800,000, then invested another $500,000 to replace critical parts and restore its original red color.
It was previously painted purple and stationed in Pakistan by its original owner, American President Lines.
Fifteen years ago, the investment made perfect sense. The then-busy marine terminal needed a modern crane to replace a failing 1942 model it bought decades earlier from the Port of Portland for $1.
Operators called the old crane BOB for Big Orange B****, and complained it was underpowered, unstable in wind and unheated. They used space heaters in the cab to keep windows from freezing in the winter.
The Manitowoc is a tread-mounted, 45-ton crane. In its heyday, it was used to load containers filled with hay, hides, popcorn and other agriculture products onto barges headed to Portland for transfer onto Asia-bound ships.
That business is gone and unlikely to return.
Al Jazeera: Fight Over Dams in the Northwest. View here
Al Jazeera TVL Fight Over Dams in the Northwest: Northwest Tribes Seek to Clear the Snake River.
Lewiston Morning Tribune: Studies doubt value of Snake River dams
By ERIC BARKER of the Tribune
November 15, 2015
A pair of studies funded by two Northwest environmental groups conclude the four lower Snake River dams are needed neither to keep the region's commerce moving nor its lights on.
Carried out by Anthony M. Jones of the Boise economic consulting firm Rocky Mountain Econometrics, the first study targets navigation on the lower Snake River and notes commerce made possible by the dams has been in steady decline and at best can only hope to stabilize at a fraction of former levels. Jones writes that container traffic on the lower Snake River has been eliminated and petroleum products have nearly disappeared. With new competition from rail, he said wood products and wheat and barley are down from historic levels, but may stabilize at current levels.
"The long-term high forecast for tonnage on the lower Snake River looks to be about 2.7 million tons," he wrote, and noted the low forecast is similar.
The study was released before the Port of Lewiston announced this week that a small amount of container traffic would return to the river.
At the high point of river transportation, when more goods were shipped by barge and the price difference between rail and river shipping was greater, barging produced a benefit of about $20 million per year. He said based on current shipping prices and river transportation tonnage, those who choose to move products by barge instead of rail save about 2.4 cents per ton, or about $7.6 million annually.
For Immediate Release
November 5, 2015
For more information:
Sam Mace, Save Our wild Salmon
(509) 863-5696 //
Kevin Lewis, Idaho Rivers United
(208) 343-7481 //
Anthony Jones, Rocky Mountain Econometrics
Two new reports: lower Snake River dams failing to pay their way
A system of outdated dams and locks on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington state is in continued and serious economic decline, according to two reports released this week by Save Our wild Salmon and Idaho Rivers United.
The reports, authored by economist Anthony Jones of Rocky Mountain Econometrics, look at the dams’ two main benefits or services: flatwater transportation and energy production. Together the reports demonstrate that 1) commercial navigation on the lower Snake River generates less than 50 cents for every dollar spent to provide it and 2) that electricity produced by the dams wouldn’t be missed if it were to vanish from the Northwest power grid tomorrow.
“These reports raise new and serious questions about the economic value and viability of four dams whose costs appear to exceed their benefits,” said Save Our Wild Salmon Inland Northwest Director Sam Mace. “Can our region afford to maintain high cost, low value infrastructure when other valuable projects in the Basin that deliver greater value are themselves facing expensive upgrades and repairs? Costs to maintain and operate this infrastructure are going to continue to rise as it ages.”
- Oct 22, 2015 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Letter challenges Army Corps of Engineers recent statements on the costs and benefits of the lower Snake River dams.
- Oct 01, 2015 - Boise Weekly: Free the Snake: A 150-Boat Flotilla Takes to the River on Oct. 3 to Advocate Against Dams
- Aug 18, 2015 - High Country News: Why is bad science protecting the Lower Snake River dams?
- Jun 09, 2015 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Farmers closer to shipping solution
- Apr 22, 2015 - Lewiston Tribune: Port container traffic on hold indefinitely
- Mar 11, 2015 - Idaho Statesman Columnist Rocky Barker: New numbers won't change debate about Snake River structures
- Mar 02, 2015 - LMT Commentary: Waddell is not so easy to ignore
- Mar 02, 2015 - LMT Editorial: Will taxpayers dub it a 'Port to Nowhere'?
- Feb 18, 2015 - Lewiston Tribune: Port of Lewiston sees its container shipping drop to lowest levels in years
- Feb 18, 2015 - Oregonian: Hanjin Shipping officially leaves Port of Portland
- Feb 15, 2015 - Lewiston Tribune: Once more into the breach debate
- Jan 21, 2015 - HCN: Livin' on the dredge: Army Corps mucks out the Snake
- Jan 12, 2015 - For Immediate Release: Court declines injunction request to prevent lower Snake dredging this winter; legal challenge moves forward
- Jan 04, 2015 - LMT: Port brass defend dredging plan
- Jan 04, 2015 - CBB: Lower Snake Dredging Opponents: Loss Of Revenues Does Not Out Weigh Irreparable Environmental Injury
- Dec 28, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Pacific lamprey could halt dredging
- Dec 26, 2014 - NWPR: $2 Million In Taxpayer Dollars At Risk In Snake River Dredging Showdown
- Dec 08, 2014 - Guest Opinion: Aging infrastructure and scarce dollars means tough decisions
- Nov 25, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Dredging plan spawns lawsuit
- Nov 25, 2014 - Press release: Fishing, conservation groups challenge Corps' costly dredging of lower Snake River
- Nov 24, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Clearwater Paper's new warehouse could hurt port
- Oct 09, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Lewiston port had difficult fiscal 2014
- Sep 11, 2014 - ACTION ALERT - Stop wasteful spending. Protect our wild salmon!
- Aug 19, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Dredging on docket for Snake River
- Jun 25, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune Letters to the Editor
- Jun 20, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Activists descend on Lewiston port hearing
- Apr 30, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: New economic data emerges in dams debate
- Apr 12, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Group says megaloads threaten rivers
- Mar 26, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Lock repair at Little Goose has shippers scrambling;
- Jan 15, 2014 - High Country News: Megaloads and wild–and-scenic rivers don’t mix
- Dec 17, 2013 - Protect the Lower Snake-Oppose Harmful, Unlawful Dredging!
- Dec 04, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Getting to the bottom of the issue
- Nov 14, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Dredging up an endless debate
- Oct 25, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Megaloads company gives up legal fight
- Oct 23, 2013 - Wall Street Journal: Road Too Far: GE Strains to Deliver Energy Colossus
- Oct 07, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Much more McGregor
- Oct 07, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Bye-Bye to barging on the Snake, Clearwater?
- Sep 27, 2013 - Al Jazeera: Tribe fights to save historic river way
- Sep 27, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune editorial: Idaho lost more than a megaload court case
- Sep 27, 2013 - New York Times: Fight Over Energy Finda a New Front in a Corner of Idaho
- Sep 17, 2013 - Spokesman-Review Editorial: Thorough, fair ruling for U.S. 12 megaloads
- Sep 17, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Judge suspends megaloads
- Aug 19, 2013 - Seattle Times: Snake River barging drop: new factor in dams debate?
- Aug 16, 2013 - For Immediate Release: Corps Delay to Dredge Lower Snake Shows Need for More Study
- Aug 08, 2013 - Nez Perce Tribe Blockades Tar Sands
- Jul 26, 2013 - SOS Letter to Forest Service re: megaloads and salmon
- Jul 22, 2013 - For immediate release: Five myths about freight transportation on the Lower Snake River
- Jun 28, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Port of Lewiston meeting takes an existential turn
- Jun 07, 2013 - LMT Guest Opinion: If you do the math, dams don't add up
- May 05, 2013 - Spokesman Review guest opinion: It’s time to assess use of shrinking tax dollars on lower Snake River dams
- Apr 23, 2013 - AP: Dredge plan draws opposition
- Mar 07, 2013 - Old Arguments, New Realities
- Mar 07, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune Editorial: Don't take Linwood Laughy's word for it
- Jan 25, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Dredging costs rise to top of meeting
- Jan 24, 2013 - Rocky Barker Blog: Corps faces a fight over dredging behind Lower Snake dams.
- Jan 24, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune Editorial: Judging River Dredging Plan By the Numbers
- Jan 23, 2013 - The Sediment Statement and the Lower Snake River Waterway