Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Oregonian Salmon and Dams Editorial

The Oregonian Editorial Board (OEB) recently ran an editorial titled - Punching holes in the concrete (August 27, 2011).

They describe the attributes and benefits of removing the two Elwha River dams on the Olympic Peninsula and the Condit dam on the White Salmon River just above Bonneville pool in Washington State.

The three dams are relics and will provide huge benefits to costs of removal but that should not diminish the dialogue about doing the same on the lower Snake River. The ledger of liabilities to assets of retaining the lower Snake dams keeps mounting.

Restoring Snake River populations of salmon and steelhead cannot occur without removing the dams. The populations of wild spring/summer chinook and steelhead are the most important remaining in the Columbia basin. Their native habitat includes large areas of wilderness and roadless tracts in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. 

The OEB reported that the lower Snake dams generate 3,000 megawatts of electricity. Those 3,000 MW only come in the spring when the Northwest is awash in hydropower. This year BPA curtailed wind power – a valuable renewable energy source - because of overgeneration (too much electricity). BPA sold some of the federal power at $00/MWh. Without the lower Snake dams; overgeneration would be less of an issue. 

Because Judge Redden has a standing spill order in the draft Biological Opinion, the lower Snake dams are currently generating only about 500 MW. The Northwest Power Pool usually peaks at more than 50,000 MW in August. The lower Snake dams are small contributors to the Northwest energy supply – on average about 1,000 MW per year.

OEB quotes former Oregon Gov. Tom McCall; "If the salmon and steelhead are running, then as far as I am concerned, God knows that all is well in his world. The health of the environment is good if the salmon and steelhead are around. It is that simple."

I suspect Gov. McCall was referring to wild fish that reside in the natural environment, not hatcheries. Those wild salmon continue to remain listed under the Endangered Species Act and are far from healthy. 

These dam removals on the Elwha and White Salmon will provide important case studies in the Pacific Northwest about the costs and benefits of dam removal. We ought not write off discussions about the lower Snake River before they’ve even become productive. A national treasure depends on it.

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