Save Our wild Salmon is committed to working with others in the Pacific Northwest to craft solutions that both protect and restore healthy, self-sustaining, harvestable populations of salmon and steelhead and help tackle the challenges we face from a warming climate. This integrated work to protect both salmon and climate is essential given our coalition’s focus on the Columbia Basin and the predominant role the federal hydro-system plays to endanger these iconic fish and this ecosystem. The effects of climate change are worsening the already-lethal impacts of the dams and their reservoirs by, for example, further disrupting the rivers’ natural flows (hydrograph), further raising river/water temperatures, increasing native and non-native populations of predatory fish like bass and pikeminnow, and more.
SOS’ work to secure a legally-valid, scientifically credible and fiscally responsible Federal Salmon Plan in the Columbia-Snake River Basin and a modernized Columbia River Treaty is informed by the three principles below. These might be best summarized by the words prevention and care*. Successfully tackling the climate challenge must integrate work that both prevents it and cares for those afflicted by it - a group that includes all of us (though especially the poor) and the web of life of which we are part.
Meaningful solutions to protect and restore wild salmon and steelhead must:
- Be consistent with and help address the larger regional effort to significantly reduce carbon emissions produced in the Pacific Northwest states and invest in truly clean, carbon-free, renewable and ecologically-sustainable resources.
- Address the harmful effects (altered hydrograph, hot river temperatures) that result from a changing, warming climate and increase the resilience of these river systems and the fish themselves in ways that allow them to adapt and fulfill their ecological roles.
- Help support and maintain an affordable energy supply for the people and communities of the Pacific Northwest.
Healthy climate and resilient habitats
The best available science is clear: protecting and restoring the Columbia Basin’s endangered fish will require the removal of the four especially harmful lower Snake River dams and improve operations for the dams/reservoirs that remain. Reduced energy production by these dams is needed in order to recreate more the natural river conditions these fish need to survive and thrive. Fortunately, our region today has feasible and affordable options to more than replace this electricity with carbon-free, clean, renewable and salmon-friendly alternatives.
The Northwest electricity grid has changed tremendously in the past 20 years. Building on abundant hydropower resources, Northwest states have developed new, renewable resources totaling more than 2,500 average megawatts (aMW) from wind, solar, geothermal and biomass energy, with another 1,500 aMW under construction. On top of this we continue to make strong advances in conservation and energy efficiency that have saved our region more than 5,500 aMW of electricity during this time.
The four lower Snake River dams produce less than 1,000 aMW of electricity each year, or about 4 percent of the Northwest’s supply. Most of this energy comes in the spring during the snowmelt – a time of high supply and low prices. The rapidly changing energy sector means that the electricity these four dams produce can be easily and affordably replaced today. Capacity from new renewables is expanding and we’re becoming smarter about how we generate, consume and manage electricity. Utilities and electricity system operators have successfully integrated new, renewable resources and built energy efficiency equivalent to over a dozen natural gas-fired plants. We are improving how we bundle wind and solar from different geographic areas to increase reliability of renewable energy contributions to system operations.
Abundant, wild salmon and clean, carbon-free energy
Finally, the region is expanding a broad collection of energy efficiency, distributed clean renewables, energy storage and load management programs that make these expanding resources even more reliable and affordable. As a result of these and other changes, the Northwest is providing some of the lowest electric rates in the nation.
Two recent studies** found that we can replace the power from lower Snake River at little additional cost to customers through new, renewable energy, purchases of clean energy from existing sources, and smart planning and system coordination. All of this is a part of building an integrated and modern electricity grid that meets customers’ needs, protects the environment and contributes our share to climate action. We do not have to choose between restoring the ancient cycle of salmon in the Northwest that is part of our region’s way of life and having low-carbon energy. We can and should have both.
The survival of wild salmon depends on healthy rivers and a healthy climate. Our increasingly dynamic energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors offers effective, affordable solutions for replacing the lower Snake River dams’ ‘extinction energy’ with conservation and new renewables. No new greenhouse gases required.
*Borrowed from Dr. Paul Farmer’s groundbreaking work to improve the health of and access to health care to all people. See To Repair the World, his book on this topic.
**Restoring Wild Salmon – Power costs and benefits of lower Snake River dam removal (NW Energy Coalition, 2015) and Lower Snake River Dams Alternative Power Costs (Rocky Mountain Econometrics, 2015)