Feds reject breaching Snake River dams
A federal report released today rejects breaching four Lower
Snake River dams in southeast Washington, finding it would raise
transportation and production costs for farmers, while also
increasing greenhouse gases, raising electric rates and making
the Northwest more vulnerable to power blackouts.
The draft environmental impact statement, conducted jointly by
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power
Administration and Bureau of Reclamation, drew immediate
criticism from environmental groups that advocate breaching the
dams to increase fish runs.
The study considered removing earth on the sides of Ice Harbor,
Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams. Breaching
the dams would have the most benefits for endangered salmon,
according to the study, and several Indian tribes said it was
the best option for offsetting the river system's harm to treaty
But breaching would not allow federal operators to meet the
congressional mandate to maintain the dams for navigation,
hydropower and irrigation, according to the report. "It also has
the highest adverse impacts to other resources, especially
social and economic effects," the report states.
New congressional authority and funding would be needed to
breach the dams, according to the report.
The study looked at the entire Columbia River hydropower system,
made up of 14 federally controlled dams and reservoirs in
Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
The report's "preferred alternative" on operating the system
includes modifying some fish-passage structures. Also, spilling
more water over dams would benefit endangered runs of salmon and
steelhead in the Lower Columbia and Snake rivers, according to
Today's release opens another round of public comments on the
dams' future. The comment period will close April 13.
The Center for Biological Diversity issued a statement accusing
the report of giving "short shrift to the only viable
alternative for saving salmon and ultimately orcas — removing
the four lower Snake River dams."
The organization said it will seek one million signatures from
supporters of removing the four dams.
The report itself acknowledged the matter wasn't settled. "This
EIS is not expected to end the regional debate on the future of
the four lower Snake River dams. On the contrary, this EIS
provides information and analysis to inform that future
dialogue," the report states.
Breaching the dams would have major long-term benefits to fish
in the Snake River because of improved rearing and migration
conditions, according to the draft EIS. Estimating the number of
fish that would survive and return to spawn is difficult because
of the uncertainty of ocean survival, the draft states.
Drawing down the water behind the dams could expose 14,000 acres
that are currently underwater. The long-term goal would be to
return the river to its natural state, benefiting tribal
fishing, gathering and occupation, according to the report.
The report warned of high economic and environmental costs that
would be felt throughout the Northwest.
Breaching the dams would approximately double the region's
chances of a power blackout — to nearly once every seven years,
the report estimates.
The power could be replaced by more natural gas-generated
electricity, but that would increase the emissions of
power-related greenhouse gases by 10% in the Northwest and would
cost about $1 billion a year, or one-third of BPA's revenues,
the report states
"If Bonneville had to replace the lower Snake River projects’
full capability with zero-carbon resources, the rate pressure
could be up to 50 percent on wholesale power rates," the report
Breaching the dams also would increase transportation-related
greenhouse gases, as trucks and trains replace barges, according
to the report. Greenhouse gases from transporting wheat would
increase by 53%, according to the report.
Wheat accounted for 87% of the downriver tonnage on the Lower
Snake River in 2018. The report estimated transportation costs
would increase by 7 cents to 24 cents a bushel, or a 10% to 33%
Farmers also could pay more for the upriver delivery of products
such as fertilizer, according to the report.
The increased truck and train traffic would increase air
pollution and likely require public and private spending to
expand highways and rail lines. Railroad company may raise rates
with less competition from barges, the report states.
Commercial cruise lines that operate on the Columbia and Snake
rivers also would be hurt by the loss of the dams as navigation
to the ports of Lewiston, Clarkston, Whitman County and Garfield
would be curtailed, according to the report. Jobs would be lost
and communities such as Clarkston, Lewiston and Asotin "would
lose their ‘river port’ community identity."
The preferred alternative seeks to balance the river system's
goals and would test whether increased spills would improve fish
runs, according to the report. The approach is expected to have
minor benefits for wild fish outside the Snake River.
Increasing spring spills for fish would raise BPA rates by an
estimated 2.7%, but not make the power system less reliable. The
reduction in hydropower would only marginally increase
greenhouse gas emissions, the report states.
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