The US Army Corp of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and Bonneville Power Administration recently completed a joint draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on the removal of the four lower Snake River dams (LSRDs). Their recommendation was to use water management to help restore fish runs without breaching the dams. This is a very emotional situation, as everyone wants to have healthy anadromous fish runs. In order to make a rational decision one must first look at the many benefits of these dams which have been in place for decades.
Jobs would be lost to dam removal, affecting hundreds of families whose everyday existence depends on the work provided by the LSRDs. Loss of carbon free power to 1.87 million homes. Flood control for families and businesses downstream on the Columbia River. Irrigation to 60,000 acres of prime farmland. Cool water released to aid anadromous fish in times of extreme heat and drought when river flows are too low. Recreation on the reservoirs. Tourism by cruise lines. Transportation of farm produce.
10% of all US wheat exports are moved by barge down the Snake River. Barging is the safest, most efficient, climate friendly way to move wheat for export. One barge is the equivalent of 134 semi-trucks or 35 jumbo rail hoppers. That means 135,000 more trucks annually, or an average of 370 every day. Adding that many more trucks would overwhelm our current highway system, making travel more dangerous. Current rail lines are at or near capacity and could not handle the added freight. We must also consider the fuel efficiency of barging. It would take another 5 million gallons of diesel annually if the same freight was moved via the truck to rail system. This would also add another 80 cents per bushel freight cost for farmers, already marketing a wheat crop at break-even or below cost of production.
With the billions of dollars spent to improve fish runs and several record or near record runs in recent years, well after the dams were in place, what is the real cause of decreased returns? Could it be warming oceans, predators, pollution and toxic waste in The Puget Sound? Federal studies show a 95% survival rate over the dams.
If the dams are breached, we really have no way of knowing the effect on the fish, good or bad. With barging and hydropower, we have a carbon efficient system in place. Let’s not let emotion over-rule common sense. Breach the dams? Absolutely NOT! The long-term effects would be devastating!