Important articles published by national and regional news outlets related to wild salmon restoration in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
Idaho congressman says federal government’s draft EIS doesn’t do enough for salmon and steelhead
By Eric Barker
March 11, 2020
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, made provocative statements about salmon recovery and the future of Snake River dams during an exchange with Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.
Simpson also signaled what he thinks of the federal government’s draft environmental impact statement on the operation of the Columbia and Snake rivers hydropower system and its impacts on threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. That study, which was released late last month, looked at, but dismissed, dam breaching as a salmon recovery measure. Instead, it backed a regime of spilling water over the dams combined with other actions as its preferred alternative.
The two Republicans squared off at an Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation budget request hearing before the House subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Simpson is the ranking member of the committee.Newhouse spent several minutes engaging with leaders of the Corps and bureau, praising their efforts to prepare the draft EIS and pushing regular citizens to comment on it. Newhouse, a farmer from Sunnyside, Wash., who represents Washington’s 4th Congressional District, is known as a staunch dam defender.
Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, chief of the Corps, said the draft EIS and its effort to balance the hydropower system with the environment is a “very complicated situation. There is a lot of different variables and they all compete against each other.”
Without prompting, Semonite said the agencies were not likely to extend the 45-day comment period on the nearly 8,000-page draft EIS as some environmental groups have asked.
“At the end of the day, it’s about how do we balance the environment with all the other needs like navigation, hydropower and irrigation.”
Responding to Newhouse and the agency heads, Simpson said, “I noticed you all mentioned hydropower, irrigation and transportation and how important those are. Nobody mentioned fish. Nobody mentioned salmon that come back to Idaho, that in the next 15 years, if something isn’t done, they will be extinct. There is no doubt about that, they will be extinct.”
Last April, Simpson made waves at an Andrus Center Conference on salmon recovery at Boise State University when he announced his commitment to saving Idaho’s salmon and steelhead, and framed possible solutions around a future with a free-flowing Snake River. There, he talked about mitigation that would need to happen to help farmers harmed by breaching and ways to shore up power supplies.
Since then, he and his chief of staff, Lindsay Slater, have been quietly meeting with stakeholders as they seek to craft a plan to save the fish and the cash-strapped Bonneville Power Administration. The BPA markets hydropower produced at federal dams on both rivers.
At the congressional hearing, Simpson intimated he doesn’t think highly of the draft environmental impact statement.
“Any plan we come up with, any EIS, had better recover salmon. Now we’ve got a new plan out there, I can’t remember, the flexible spill thing. The one thing it will not do is speed up the migration of salmon to the Pacific Ocean, which is now about twice as long as it used to be.”
Just as he did in Boise, Simpson said Tuesday he wants people to look far into the future and envision what they want from the river system.
“We are trying to preserve what exists instead of saying, ‘What do we want to do for the next 20 or 40 years? What do we want this to look like in 20 or 40 years?’ ” he said.
When Newhouse was again up to speak, he declared he too wanted to save the fish, but in a way that also preserves the Snake River dams. Then he said salmon were once not welcome in Idaho, apparently referencing an Idaho Department of Fish and Game effort in the mid-20th century to construct migration barriers on some creeks in the Stanley Basin, and even poison some lakes to drive out the few remaining sockeye salmon and other fish in favor of planted trout.
“So when they get through all the dams in the Columbia and Snake rivers in Washington, guess what, through much of the system they run into concrete barriers because spawning salmon just don’t want to take a hook, and they (Fish and Game) wanted trout, so decisions were made way back in history,” Newhouse said.
When it was Simpson’s time to speak, he mentioned that he and Newhouse are friends, but they don’t always see eye to eye.
“We do have some differences on a couple of issues and, you know, discussing the 60-to-70-year-old history of what the Idaho Department of Fish and Game did doesn’t really help us recover salmon today.”
Simpson then said the region has several options to replace the benefits of the dams, but the fish have only one option.
“Those dams produce 3,000 megawatts of power. You can put small modular reactors or other things in there. You can produce (power) differently. Everything we do, we can do differently. Salmon need one thing — they need a river.”
The two-hour hearing can be viewed at http://bit.ly/39KMicW.
Barker may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.
Period for public to comment on recent Columbia River Hydropower System
statement scheduled to last 45 days
By Eric Barker
March 7, 2020
A little more than a week after the federal government unvieled its
massive draft environmental impact statement on the Columbia River Hydropower System and its effects on salmon and steelhead, some interest groups are asking for more time to formulate their public comments and questioning if public hearings should be delayed because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Others are asking that public hearings be added in communities like
Boise and Salmon.
The draft document, which is more than 7,500 pages long, recommends against breaching the four lower Snake River dams as a measure to help the fish, and instead focuses largely on spilling more water over dams to help juvenile fish reach the ocean more quickly and safely.
The Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration are giving people 45 days to comment and digest the highly technical tome. The comment deadline is April 13, and a series of public hearings on the draft document are set to kick off March 17 in Lewiston.
One of the public meetings is scheduled for Seattle, which is the national epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak and where many large businesses and public institutions have taken steps to reduce unnecessary social contact. For example, the University of Washington has moved to online classes only through March 20. Some large tech companies like Microsoft and Amazon are directing many of their employees in the Seattle area to work from home. And the Emerald City Comic Con set to begin Thursday has been postponed.
Joseph Bogaard, executive director of the Seattle-based Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, said attendance at the Seattle meeting and perhaps others is likely to suffer because people are avoiding large public gatherings.
“There has been a lot of interest over time to participate in the hearings and show up and speak up,” he said. “Under the circumstances, I think that enthusiasm has cooled quite a bit. At this point, unless something changes for the better, I think it’s going to be hard for folks to ask their members to come out and be part of a big public crowd.”
Matt Rabe, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the agency is monitoring the coronavirus situation in Seattle and other cities and considering adjustments.
“We will likely reach out to the county public health agencies and seek their input about if and where and how we hold public comment meetings,” he said. “We will probably have to make some decisions next week, since the meetings are the following week.”
Bogaard’s organization is part of a coalition of environmental and fishing groups that wrote a letter to executives of the three federal
agencies, asking them to extend the public comment period to 120 days or more, regardless of coronavirus concerns. They say the document is simply too long for such a short public comment period.
“Forty-five days just seems terribly inadequate for such an important set of issues that concern and affects so many people across our region,” Bogaard said.
In the letter, the groups noted that the federal government asked federal Judge Michael Simon in 2016 to give them five years to prepare the environmental impact statement and that it cited a similar EIS that wrapped up in 2002, which included a five-month public comment period. That study, while large, covered only the lower Snake River. This one covers both the Snake and Columbia rivers.
In addition, the corps told Simon in 2016 it would need a year to analyze the public comments and incorporate them into the final version. Now, the federal agencies intend to analyze the public comments by the end of June and finish the document by September.
Simon granted the federal agencies the five years they requested back in 2016. But in October 2018, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to expedite permitting and other required documentation for water projects in the West. Included in that order was a demand to complete the court-ordered EIS on Snake and Columbia rivers by 2020.
“The truncated schedule is at odds with your agencies’ sworn statement to the court, with the public interest in this issue, and the health and well-being of our salmon, steelhead, orcas, farming and fishing communities, tribes and Northwest energy system,” the groups wrote in their letter.
Five former Idaho Fish and Game commissioners also want the public comment period extended, and for more public hearings on the EIS to be held in Idaho. Fred Trevey, Keith Carlson, Keith Stonebraker and Will Godfrey, of Lewiston, and Gary Powers, of Salmon, sent a letter to Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Friday asking him to petition the federal government for an additional 45 days of public comment. They also want Little to advocate for public hearings to be held at Boise and Salmon.
“Travel time and expense makes it impractical for citizens from either of these locations to access the Lewiston-Clarkston meeting,” they wrote.
Rabe, the spokesman for the corps, said the agencies would evaluate any requests for additional meetings and meeting locations.
The draft EIS is available for review at www.nwd.usace.army.mil/CRSO/. The public meeting in Lewiston will be held from 4-8 p.m. March 17.
By Jeremy Jacobs
March 3, 2020
A long-awaited, court-ordered federal plan to recover the Pacific Northwest's salmon has satisfied few and has shifted attention to Congress and statehouses to come up with a solution before time runs out for the region's iconic species.
Federal managers of the Columbia River's complex hydropower system last week released a draft environmental analysis of how the dams affect salmon and steelhead, and what they should do to mitigate those impacts.
For the first time, they were required to consider breaching four dams on the Lower Snake River in eastern Washington that conservationists say are the straw that breaks the camel's back for several runs of salmon and steelhead.
Unsurprisingly, advocates who sued to force the assessment say, the agencies did not back the breaching option. Instead, they recommended relatively minor tweaks to a program that many say isn't working for several runs of fish (Greenwire, Feb. 28).
"With this draft EIS, the agencies have confirmed that they are not going to take the kind of broad view that would let us actually make the investments and take the actions to solve this problem," said Todd True of Earthjustice, who represented environmental groups in the lawsuit that led to the new review.
"That really puts the spotlight on various elected leaders," True said.
The salmon and steelhead runs of the Columbia River were once among the largest in the world, with 10 million to 16 million fish returning every year to spawn. About half of those swam upstream hundreds of miles to the Columbia's main tributary, the Snake River, and into Idaho.
Those numbers plunged quickly in the 20th century, especially for the Snake River runs, thanks to harvest, predators, dam building and a warming ocean due to climate change.
More than a dozen runs are now listed under the Endangered Species Act. Most experts agree that the country's most expensive recovery program — it's cost nearly $17 billion — isn't working for some of those runs.
A federal court has struck down aspects of the program on five occasions, most recently in May 2016. One judge ruled that it "literally cries out for a major overhaul."
That led to the draft environmental impact statement last week from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration, or BPA, which sells the power from the dams.
It comes as BPA faces its own challenges. BPA funds the endangered species program, but wind, solar and natural gas have challenged its hydropower as the cheapest source of energy in the region. Some of its customers have said they will at least explore other options when contracts expire in 2028 (Greenwire, Nov. 27, 2019).
Many say the region needs a more far-reaching solution.
"The EIS process," Sean O'Leary of the nonprofit NW Energy Coalition said, "is too limited in scope to adequately address all the relevant issues, which is why a more comprehensive process is needed to solve the challenge of fish restoration while also addressing the full range of regional, community, and tribal needs."
O'Leary's group was one of 17 parties — including tribes, environmental groups and power providers in the region — that sent a letter to the governors of Idaho, Oregon and Washington state late last month.
It called for a collaborative effort and a commitment to "abundant and harvestable fish" while ensuring reliability of the electric grid (Greenwire, Feb. 25).
Some experts and advocates say the only way to achieve "abundant and harvestable" fish runs is to remove the four Lower Snake River dams: Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite.
O'Leary's group did an extensive analysis in 2018 that found solar, wind, demand response and efficiency measures could replace the power from the four dams at relatively low cost.
He said their preliminary analysis of the draft environmental impact statement found "significant shortcomings," including the absence of any discussion of wind power and demand resources.
"We think those shortcomings result in an overstatement of the amount and the cost of new electricity resources that would be required to replace power and services from the dams." O'Leary said.
Linwood Laughy, an Idaho-based activist, said the preferred alternative of the environmental assessment — whose measures include tweaks to some programs and increased spill over the dams to help the fish migrate — "just leads us back to court and drags this all out for another five years."
And it shows that any effort to save the fish must come from elsewhere.
"It's going to have to take some alignment of Pacific Northwest power brokers," Laughy said.
'These fish may not make it’
Notably, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) appeared to endorse breaching the four dams last month in a letter to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) (Greenwire, Feb. 18).
Inslee and Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) have both spoken on the issue and convened task forces to study salmon, as well as how the depleted runs are affecting a pod of orcas in Puget Sound that relies on salmon for food.
But both have also sidestepped the politically charged question of whether to breach the four Lower Snake River dams.
That's spurred an increased focus on Rep. Mike Simpson. The Idaho Republican delivered an impassioned speech last April that connected BPA's financial challenges to the fish problems and pledged to ask hard "what if" questions about the entire system as it exists now.
He also spoke about salmon in nearly religious terms. Describing seeing adult salmon in Idaho that had swum 900 miles from the ocean and up 7,000 feet of elevation gain to spawn and die, Simpson said: "It was the end of a cycle. And the beginning of a new one. These are the most incredible creatures, I think, that God's created" (Greenwire, Sept. 3, 2019).
However, some important players in the region have yet to sign on to a new, separate negotiation process.
The Pacific Northwest Waterways Association represents parties that rely on the Columbia and Snake rivers for barging and transportation, which is made possible by the four 100-foot-tall, run-of-the-river dams on the Lower Snake River. That includes shipping companies, ports and, importantly, the region's farmers.
Executive Director Kristin Meira said the draft environmental impact statement struck the right tone.
"From where we sit," she said, "it appears to be a balanced approach when it comes to satisfying all the different authorized purposes of the dams in the basin, with continued improvements for fish."
She said long-term concerns about salmon recovery are best addressed through the Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force, an initiative NOAA established three years ago.
Others have been skeptical of that process, including how quickly it can generate changes to benefit the fish.
Laughy, the Idaho-based activist, said the clock is ticking.
"We don't have a lot more time for these fish, considering the predictions about global warming," he said. "These fish may not make it even if we take the dams out."
Twitter: @GreenwireJeremy Email: email@example.com
Nez Perce Tribe
Feb 28, 2020
Restoring the lower Snake River and its salmon, steelhead, and lamprey could not be more significant for the Nez Perce people, given the location of the Tribe’s homeland and treaty-reserved territory, and the central role of salmon, steelhead, and lamprey in Nez Perce culture. The dams on the lower Snake River and the mainstem Columbia have had — and continue to have — an enormous impact on salmon and steelhead, and the Nez Perce people. The Nez Perce Tribe has long publicly supported restoring the lower Snake River by breaching the four dams there and investing in affected local communities.
“We view restoring the lower Snake River as urgent and overdue — and we are committed to continuing to provide leadership in all forums: from the halls of Congress, to our federal agency trustees and partners, to the courtroom, to the statehouses, to conversations with our neighbors, energy interests, and other river users, to this Environmental Impact Statement,” stated Chairman Shannon F. Wheeler.
“Accurate, complete, and transparent information and analyses of the impacts of the four lower Snake River dams is necessary for national and regional decision-makers, and is required by law under the National Environmental Policy Act,” Chairman Wheeler continued.
The Tribe has actively participated in the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) litigation involving the impacts of the federal dams on the lower Snake River and mainstem Columbia River. The Tribe agreed with U.S. District Judge Michael Simon about the unique opportunity a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) provides — that a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement “may be able to break through any logjam that simply maintains the precarious status quo” while the Federal Columbia River Power System “remains a system that ‘cries out’ for a new approach and for new thinking” if wild Pacific salmon and steelhead are to have any reasonable chance of surviving their encounter with modern man.
The Tribe has participated as a cooperating agency in the Environmental Impact Statement process, with the acknowledgement that such participation would not — and could not — alter the United States’ Treaty, trust, and Government-to-Government obligations to the Tribe, and that cooperating agencies may or may not support the ultimate National Environmental Policy Act documents and decisions made by the federal co-lead agencies.
The Tribe has continued to support additional interim improvements to benefit salmon. The Tribe entered into the 2019-2021 Spill Operation Agreement, agreeing to forbear from pursuing litigation until completion of the Environmental Impact Statement and intending to incrementally benefit juvenile salmon passage in 2020 and 2021, as the Tribe continued working to address the significant fish mortality from the dams and ensure a full National Environmental Policy Act analysis of lower Snake River dam breaching. “The Tribe made it clear that the 2019-2021 Spill Operation Agreement was acceptable only as an interim operation for the term of that Agreement,” Chairman Wheeler said. “A Draft Environmental Impact Statement that offers a Preferred Alternative that provides no more protection for salmon than the 2019-2021 Spill Operation Agreement that was intended to provide time and space for the development of a more significant system improvement, is unacceptable.”
The Tribe will be reviewing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement carefully, and will be submitting formal comments for the record.
Agencies opt for plan that includes increased water spilling at dams to help endangered salmon and steelhead
By Eric Barker, of the Tribune
Feb 29, 2020
The federal government plotted a stay-the-course strategy on as-of-yet unsuccessful efforts to recover Snake River salmon and steelhead and other listed species of ocean-going fish Friday.
The Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration released a draft environmental impact statement on the operation of the Columbia River Hydropower Systems and its effects on salmon and steelhead protected by the Endangered Species Act. The document, four years in the making and nearly 5,000 pages long, said breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River would lead to the best chance of recovering fish that return to Idaho, eastern Washington and northeastern Oregon — but rejected that option as too costly and disruptive to power generation and commodity shipping.
Instead, the document proposed a strategy built around the concept of flexible spill, where water is spilled at some of the dams at high levels for 16 hours a day, but reduced for the rest of the day to coincide with higher demand and prices for electricity. The strategy was adopted last year and was set to run through next year as an interim measure to cover the time the federal study was being authored. The idea is to use spill to speed travel time for juvenile fish and decrease the number of fish that pass through turbines and fish bypass systems at the dams, a strategy that has shown promise of decreasing dam-related mortality.
The agency’s preferred alternative calls for continuing that strategy into the future but also adds even more flexibility by shifting some springtime flows from places like Dworshak Dam near Orofino to the winter, when the water is more valuable for power production. It also proposes a number of other measures to increase fish survival, including altering flows to discourage predatory birds like Caspian terns from nesting on islands in Columbia River and upgrading turbines the Corps claims will both increase power production and decrease fish mortality. It calls for a program that has some juvenile fish captured and shipped downriver in trucks and barges to start about two weeks earlier. Doing so would help balance the number of fish transported with the number that stay in the rivers.
According to the document, the full slate of actions could increase smolt-to-adult survival rates of Snake River chinook by 35 percent and Snake River steelhead by 28 percent. Those increases would not vault smolt-to-adult return rates into the 2 to 6 percent range with an average of 4 percent that is deemed necessary to recover the fish. However, the agencies determined it would achieve survival rates high enough to satisfy minimum requirements of the Endangered Species Act.
“I commend the team for its commitment to identifying a preferred alternative that balances the system’s authorized purposes and our resource, legal and institutional obligations,” said Lorri Gray, Bureau of Reclamation regional director. “This is a significant accomplishment made possible by the hard work and strong partnership with organizations throughout the region and among the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration.”
An analysis by the Fish Passage Center at Portland indicated that government’s strategy would produce smolt-to-adult return rates that would not meet recovery targets, and that climate change is likely to produce more frequent river and ocean conditions that would lead to population declines.
“The thing I would really worry about is under climate change conditions, the lower end of range of (smolt-to-adult return rates), they are not going to keep the stocks from declining,” said Michele DeHart, director of the Fish Passage Center.
Previous studies by the Fish Pass Center indicate that breaching the Snake River dams and spilling water at dams on the Columbia River could lead to a four-fold increase in fish numbers.
Fish advocates panned the document as insufficient to meet the challenges of fish recovery.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” said Justin Hayes, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League at Boise. “It’s the sixth in a string of failed federal plans. It doesn’t waver from the status quo. It tweaks it, and quite frankly we know what status quo has been getting us — fish in decline. We’ve spent $17 billion and it’s not working. We need bold action and this plan doesn’t do that.”
The Nez Perce Tribe has long urged the agencies to breach the lower Snake River dams and has successfully sued the government several times over former plans for not meeting the standards of the ESA. It also cooperated with the federal government as it developed the draft EIS.
“We view restoring the lower Snake River as urgent and overdue — and we are committed to continuing to provide leadership in all forums: from the halls of Congress, to our federal agency trustees and partners, to the courtroom, to the statehouses, to conversations with our neighbors, energy interests, and other river users, to this EIS,” stated Nez Perce Chairman Shannon F. Wheeler.
Those who support the government’s strategy and want Snake River dams to remain in place were pleased with the draft.
“Breaching the lower Snake River dams is not an option for maintaining the balance in a system that powers our homes and businesses and feeds our communities in so many ways,” said Kristin Meira, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association.
According to the draft EIS, replacing power produced by the dams with carbon-free sources would cost as much as $527 million annually and could require as much as $1 billion in investments. Replacing the power with natural gas turbines would cost $200 million a year and lead to a 10 percent increase in the release of greenhouse gases, the report said.
Breaching would eliminate barge transportation on the Snake River and raise shipping costs paid by wheat farmers 7 to 24 cents a bushel or 10 to 33 percent, according to the EIS. If all shipping switched to rail, it would require investments between $25 million to $50 million for new facilities and another $30 million to $36 million to upgrade shortline rail lines.
According to the draft document, breaching the dams would cost about $955 million or about $35.4 million a year over 50 years. But breaching would save the government nearly $79 million a year in dam maintenance costs and $32 million in capital costs. Operation and maintenance costs associated with preferred alternative come to $477.5 million per year, a decrease of about $729,000 compared to current spending.
The agencies have opened a 45-day public comment period and will hold a series of public hearings around the region, including a stop at the Red Lion Hotel in Lewiston on March 17 from 4-8 p.m.
The document is available at www.nwd.usace.army.mil/CRSO/#top.
Barker may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.
By Jeremy P. Jacobs
Feb 28, 2020
The Trump administration today released a court-ordered plan to rescue the Pacific Northwest's iconic salmon from the brink of extinction through changes to the complex Columbia River hydropower system.
But environmentalists — who have successfully challenged dam managers in court five times — said it is just more of the same program that has failed the fish for nearly half a century. They vowed to continue their legal fight.
"Salmon-dependent communities across the Pacific Northwest feel like Bill Murray in 'Groundhog Day,' reliving the same day over and over again," said Wendy McDermott, a director at American Rivers overseeing the Puget Sound and Columbia Basin region. "Here in the Northwest, we're looking at yet another Snake River salmon recovery plan that will almost certainly fail and is unlikely to survive legal challenge."
The Pacific Northwest's salmon and steelhead runs were once among the most prolific in the world. An estimated 10 million to 16 million fish returned to the Columbia River, and about half traveled hundreds of miles up its main tributary, the Snake River, into Idaho to spawn.
Those numbers have dropped dramatically to record lows for the Snake River runs due to harvest, ocean conditions, predators and rapid dam-building in the 20th century.
Most experts agree the Snake River salmon and steelhead are heading toward extinction despite the most expensive Endangered Species Act recovery program the country has ever undertaken. It has cost nearly $17 billion.
In May 2016, a federal judge ordered the federal agencies that own and operate the dams — the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration — to undertake a new environmental analysis.
And the judge ordered them to consider breaching four of the most contentious dams on the Lower Snake River in eastern Washington: Ice Harbor (completed in 1961), Lower Monumental (1969), Little Goose (1970) and Lower Granite (1975).
They sit in the middle of the system, and conservationists say they add fatal stress to juvenile salmon and steelhead as they migrate down the Snake River to the Pacific Ocean.
Those fish must navigate eight dams. Data suggests they aren't returning at rates to survive.
Today, the agencies released the draft environmental impact statement. It did not endorse removing the dams.
"Despite the major benefits to fish expected" from breaching the dams, a summary of the document states, that option is not the preferred alternative "due to adverse impact to other resources such as transportation, power reliability and affordability, and greenhouse gases."
Instead, the agencies' preferred option would boost levels of water spilled over the dams and includes other measures.
"The draft EIS represents a remarkable collaborative effort to gather public input and information for a current and thorough analysis of options that meet the goals of the EIS and our future responsibilities to the region," said Brig. Gen. D. Peter Helmlinger, Northwestern Division commander at the Army Corps.
Environmentalists said those measures have been tried before — and have come up short.
"Rather than seizing this opportunity to heed the public's call for working together for a solution that revives salmon populations, the
draft plan is built on the same failed approach the courts have rejected time and again," said Todd True of Earthjustice, who has represented conservation groups in their legal challenges.
The draft EIS provides extensive discussion of breaching the dams.
But the agencies' opposition to breaching appears to boil down to the same reasons they have used for years, including the importance of the power produced by the dams and the barging they provide for the region's farmers.
"The dams play an important role in maintaining reliability, and their flexibility and dispatch ability are valuable components" of the
hydropower system, the summary states. Breaching "would more than double the region's risk of power shortages compared to the no action alternative."
The four 100-foot-tall, run-of-the-river dams have the capacity to produce about 3,000 megawatts. But, on average, they generate about a third of that due to river conditions — they can only max out when flows are high — and fish mitigation measures such as spill.
At most, that's about 12.6% of the Bonneville Power Administration's total power that it sells both inside and outside the region from the 31 dams in the system.
BPA is already facing significant energy market pressures. Due to increased wind, solar and natural gas coming online, its wholesale power rate has climbed 30% since 2008 to about $36 per megawatt-hour. With contracts with the region's utilities set to expire in 2028, some of its customers are considering potentially cheaper alternatives (Greenwire,
Nov. 27, 2019).
BPA has said it believes its hydropower will become more valuable as states like Washington mandate 100% clean power.
But the EIS also says that removing the dams would create "upward rate pressure of between 8.2 percent and 9.6 percent."
Others have disputed how much the region needs the power from the Lower Snake River dams.
In 2018, an extensive analysis by the NW Energy Coalition found solar, wind, demand response and efficiency measures could replace the power from the dams at relatively low prices. And it concluded that the renewables would make the region's dams more reliable, not less.
Similarly, an economic analysis last year by ECONorthwest, a consulting firm, concluded the benefits of breaching outweighed costs by between $5.4 billion and $12.4 billion (Greenwire, Oct. 23, 2019).
Some conservationists, like former Idaho Fish and Game biologist Steve Pettit, said this is what they expected from the agencies.
"But I guess I'm really saddened," he said, that the agencies are selecting an "alternative that has been their choice, in one form or
another, for the last 40-plus years and has failed miserably to even slow down the race towards extinction that wild Snake [River] salmonids have [been] heading."
The public comment period on the draft runs through April 13.