Fish ladder in a Columbia River Dam. Alison Jones/NWNL
By Alison Jones, NWNL Executive Director
Mitigation against impacts on salmon populations by the Columbia/Snake River dams has been deemed insufficient. Thus, NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) has asked the US Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA and the Bureau of Reclamation to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for breaching, bypassing, or removing 14 Federal dams – including the 4 Lower Snake River Dams. These agencies are now accepting public comments. Given drastic declines of salmon, NWNL and many others who agree that avian predation management and “safety-net” hatcheries don’t do enough are sending in comments. (More background info at www.crso.info.)
TO COMMENT on the Snake River Dams (by Feb. 7): Email email@example.com. Call 800-290-5033. Or mail letters to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NW Div., Attn: CRSO EIS, P.O. Box 2870, Portland, OR 97208-2870.
Our NWNL Comment on the 4 Lower Snake River Dams sent to the US Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA and Bureau of Reclamation:
For 10 years No Water No Life® has studied freshwater issues in the Columbia River Basin. We’ve focused on the Lower 4 Snake River Dams since 2014. During our 4-week Snake River Expedition, NWNL interviewed 17 scientists, fishermen, commercial farmers, USF&W staff, hatchery and dam operators, power companies, historians, the Port of Lewiston Manager and the Nez Perce Dept. of Fisheries. (Our 2014 Snake River itinerary)
After 3 follow-up visits to the Snake River Basin and continued research, No Water No Life asks you to breach, bypass or remove the Lower 4 Snake River dams. Below are the Q & A’s that informed our conclusion:
Who cares about the future of the Lower 4 Snake River dams? Many people – in and beyond the Columbia River Basin – are concerned. So far, over 250,000 taxpayer advocates have delivered comments supporting wild salmon and healthy rivers, according to Save our Wild Salmon. That’s a ¼ million people who’ve spoken out on meaningful, cost-effective salmon restoration that could occur with the removal of the 4 costly dams on the lower Snake River.
Lower Granite Dam on Snake River’s Lake Bryan. Alison Jones/NWNL
Is there a real threat if nothing changes? Yes. The Endangered Species Coalition put Snake River Chinook on its top “Top Ten” list last month. In his examination of the Port of Lewiston’s diminishing role, Linwood Leahy notes we are pushing the salmon to extinction, even though they were here long before homo sapiens.
Is this plea just for salmon? No. Removing the Lower 4 Snake River dams will aid recovery of wild salmon, orca whales, freely-flowing rivers and forests enriched by remains of spawned salmon carrying ocean nutrients upstream. Nature built a fine web where species and ecosystems connect in ways we will probably never fully understand – but must respect. Loss of one species affects the entire trophic cascade of an ecosystem – be it the loss of predator species (e.g., lion or wolves) or the bottom of the food chain (e.g., herring or krill).
Salmon hatchery in Columbia/Snake River System. Alison Jones/NWNL
The unique and already-endangered orcas (aka Southern Resident killer whales) are highly susceptible to declines of Snake River salmon, per The Orca Network. The Center for Whale Research claims that salmon restoration must “include the Fraser, Skagit and Columbia/Snake Rivers, the key sources that provide the wild salmon that the whales need to survive.”
How do the dams impact the salmon? Fish biologists agree that dams have decreased wild fish populations by making it more difficult for juvenile and adults to migrate to and from the ocean. Dams become salmon-killers each summer as water temperatures become lethally hot in slow-moving, open reservoirs. Even a 4-degree increase can kill thousands of fish. When the dams go, wild salmon can again access over 5,000 miles of pristine, high-elevation habitat which is much cooler for salmon in this warming world. Dam removal is agreed to be the single most effective means to restore populations of wild salmon, steelhead and Pacific Lamprey. It will also restore U. S. fishing industry jobs.
Does the Pacific NW need these 4 Snake River Dams for hydro energy? No. These outdated dams produce only 3% of the region’s power – and only during spring run-off, when demand is low. The electricity the dams produce can be replaced by affordable, carbon-free energy alternatives. Local wind energy has exploded and easily exceeds the capacity of the dams — by 3.4 times as much in the Pacific Northwest. On some days the dam authorities can’t give away the little power they generate. In light of that, it is wrong that taxpayers support exorbitant costs of maintaining these days (estimated at $133.6 million for 2015).
Little Goose Lock and Dam on the Snake River. Alison Jones/NWNL
Do farmers or others need the Lower 4 Snake River Dams? No. Distinct from the Columbia River system, the Snake River barge traffic, enabled by dams, has declined 70% in 20 years. Using the Corps of Engineers’ categorization, the Snake River has been a waterway of “negligible use” for years. There is no longer any containerized, barge shipping of lumber, wood chips, paper or pulse (peas, lentils, garbanzos) from the Snake River or anywhere to the Port of Portland. The only remaining shipping is for non-container commodities, such as wheat from the Palouse, which could be moved solely by truck-to-rail, instead of truck-to-barge. For further data, please feel free to email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a copy of “Lower Snake River Freight Transportation: Twenty Years of Continuous Decline” (October 25, 2016 by Linwood Laughy of Kooskia, Idaho).
Wheat fields and wind energy in Snake River Basin. Alison Jones/NWNL
Much rail infrastructure is already in place and being expanded in realization that the dams are aging, performing as sediment traps (especially with climate change) and incurring heavy repair costs to prevent crumbling. The needed and smart investment would be a few more “loop rail” terminals with storage for grain. Long term, this will provide very cost-efficient and environmentally-friendly transport. There is a growing movement supporting more rail infrastructure, and even electric rail, in the US to create an interconnected and cleaner energy future.
Ritzville WA Train Depot and grain silos in Snake River Basin. Alison Jones/NWNL
We ask you to avoid outdated date, miscalculations and past errors. We ask you to hire independent, informed experts for their input on the dams’ actual costs and relevance. We ask you to make the wise environmental and economical choice. Thank you.
Alison M. Jones, Executive Director of No Water No Life®, LLC