Work to replace the dams’ power, transportation and irrigation must begin now to save salmon and more.
Saturday, April 8, 2023
Joseph Bogaard / For The Herald
The Snohomish County Public Utility District has outlined its plan to meet the region’s expanding energy needs, which leans into efficiency, energy conservation and smart new technologies ("PUD eyeing conservation, innovating to meet growing energy need,” The Herald, Feb. 21). This approach can be applied across our region, and can save Snake River salmon from extinction at the same time.
We can have a future with abundant salmon and steelhead, clean and affordable energy, economic opportunities for everyone; all while upholding our treaty responsibilities to Tribal Nations. This is all possible; but only if we act now.
Decades of scientific research make clear that removing Washington state’s four lower Snake River dams is necessary to stop the permanent loss of salmon, steelhead and salmon-dependent Southern Resident orcas. We can, and should, take the immediate steps necessary to replace the energy and other services these dams provide.
Salmon are central to the treaty rights and cultures of Tribes that have led efforts to recover them for decades. In January, the 57 Tribes of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians passed a resolution calling for “bold action for salmon and river restoration in the Columbia Basin.”
In 2021, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, put forward a comprehensive set of strategies for lower Snake River dam removal and service replacement.
The Biden Administration has recently committed to developing a “durable long-term strategy to restore salmon … to healthy and abundant levels [and] honor Federal commitments to Tribal Nations.“
Last year, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. and Gov. Jay Inslee issued their “Lower Snake River Dams: Benefit Replacement Report,” demonstrating that replacing the services these dams provide is both feasible and affordable.
Supported by these findings, the Washington state Legislature is now moving forward to secure funding to analyze and plan for replacing the services of the four lower Snake River dams. These measures are an important and urgent part of developing a comprehensive, collaborative solution to ensure a clean, reliable and affordable energy and transportation future for all Washingtonians.
The four lower Snake River dams provide limited, and replaceable, energy services. They produce only about 925 average megawatts of electricity each year. That’s just 4 percent of the region’s power generation. And they produce power largely between March to June; when demand is low. New clean energy resources can replace and improve on these energy services, providing more output in summer and winter, when power is actually needed, resulting in improved year-round reliability.
For salmon and steelhead to recover to healthy levels and be resilient to climate change, they need a free-flowing lower Snake River as quickly as possible. With effective planning, the power benefits of these four dams can be replaced with affordable, non-carbon emitting, reliable alternatives. The Northwest has accomplished these types of transitions before, and working together, we can do it again.
Freight transportation of loaded barges on the lower Snake River has declined by 75 percent in the past 25 years. We can plan for and modernize the transportation in this corridor, consistent with Washington’s overall commitment to fight climate change and meet the needs of the agriculture, shipping and communities in southeast Washington state.
The Ice Harbor Dam reservoir on the lower Snake River provides irrigation for approximately 53,000 acres of farmland. The irrigation analysis the Legislature has been asked to fund is necessary to ensure continued water availability and determine infrastructure needs for reliable irrigation, ongoing crop production, and to protect agricultural jobs.
With effective planning and input from Northwest policymakers, Tribes, stakeholders, communities and federal agencies, we can replace the energy, transportation and irrigation services provided by the dams.
Every year spent in litigation and uncertainty is another year pushing salmon closer to disappearing forever, creating economic and cultural hardships for Tribal Nations, fishers and farmers, and communities along the lower Snake River.
This is our opportunity — and likely our only opportunity — to act.
With these planning measures underway, we can move toward the certainty needed; protecting salmon abundance for future generations while ensuring a reliable, affordable energy system, modernized and robust transportation system, and a just, equitable and ecologically sound future for all people in the Pacific Northwest.
Joseph Bogaard is executive director for Save Our Wild Salmon.