By Les Welsh, National Wildlife Federation
Aug 3, 2022
It’s time to consider the cost of keeping the lower Snake River dams.
Since the late 1970s, costly mitigation efforts have attempted to preserve Northwest salmon populations to no avail, and they are now closer to extinction than ever before. From fish ladders to juvenile fish transports and water level adjustments, we’ve poured more than $26 billion into trying to help salmon pour over the lower Snake River dams like they once did.
These efforts continue to cost taxpayers as we choose workaround solutions when the truth is that salmon need a free-flowing river to thrive. Each year, as water levels decrease and temperatures rise in the lower Snake River, salmon recovery efforts have continued to cost more and more. And yet, annual salmon returns continued their trend toward extinction.
According to Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent draft report, it is not only possible to replace the energy services provided by the lower Snake River dams, it is essential to prevent salmon extinction, and comes with numerous long-term benefits.
Study after study has indicated that once-abundant salmon from the lower Snake River are headed toward extinction because of the four lower Snake River dams, affecting local economies and putting upwards of 6,000 commercial fishing jobs at risk and limiting the river’s potential for tourism and recreation revenue. Decreased salmon and steelhead returns have also violated federal treaty rights for tribes and Indigenous people who were promised abundant salmon in the region.
An investigation into the value of breaching reveals great returns — for both salmon and local economies — which outweigh the value of keeping the dams. Let’s think critically about both options, starting with present-day circumstances.
The draft report concludes that breaching these dams is a worthy investment, not only for Northwest salmon and the Southern Resident orcas that depend on them, but also for tribes and economies throughout the region.
By restoring salmon populations, it is projected that we could generate an additional $1 billion annually in income for Washington fishermen and support up to 25,000 more jobs. We’ll also increase commercial and subsistence fishing for tribes.
An estimated $10 billion to $27 billion over the next 50 years can recover Northwest salmon stocks, propelling local economies forward. This is the most promising method of restoring Columbia-Snake salmon to date.
So what’s the smart way to spend? Imagine sitting around the kitchen table and using the issue to teach your kids how to use their money wisely.
Would you pour billions into aging hulks that are going to require more spending for salmon recovery and produce less power over time? Or would you instead invest that money in replacing the services the dams provide, supporting our communities and tribes — and ensuring iconic salmon don’t go extinct on our watch?
We can make the right investment here — and we must. Abundant salmon returns would fortify our fishing industry, agriculture and clean energy.