Changing OPALCO for the Orcas | Guest Column

Submitted by Sharon Grace, coordinator of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Chinook Salmon Initiative

The waters around the San Juan Islands are a summer home of the critically endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.

OPALCO, the islands’ utility co-op, is owned by islanders. Islanders overwhelmingly support recovering the endangered orcas.

Recovering the orcas hinges on recovering chinook salmon populations. The Snake River historically supplied abundant salmon for the whales, as the salmon migrated south along both sides of Vancouver Island on their return trip to the Snake River.

Based on its historical production, the largest potential for increased chinook abundance in the Southern Residents’ range is the Snake-Columbia River Basin. The federally funded Fish Passage Center predicts up to a four-fold increase in spring/summer chinook salmon abundance if the lower Snake River dams are breached.

Decades of studies show that the four lower Snake River dams are driving extinction of the lower Snake River chinook salmon, which in turn is driving the Southern Resident orca population down. As NOAA itself stated in its 2008 Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery Plan “[p]erhaps the single greatest change in food availability for resident killer whales since the late 1800s has been the decline of salmon in the Columbia River basin.” The Snake is the Columbia’s largest tributary and once produced about half of the entire basin’s Chinook.

OPALCO attempts to give us the impression that it is neutral on the lower Snake River dam breaching. What OPALCO doesn’t tell us is that it uses our money to pay dues to PNGC and WRECA, influential trade groups that lobby to keep the dams in place.

OPALCO members—if we want to have wild salmon and Southern Resident orcas for future generations, it’s time to get active and change OPALCO. Take action now and tell OPALCO we want the four lower Snake River dams to be breached ASAP, we want OPALCO to support dam breaching, and we don’t want our money to be used to pay dues to organizations that lobby to retain the dams.

OPALCO contact info: phone 360-376-3500, email,, Twitter @OrcasPower, Instagram @orcaspower.

(For OPALCO’s position, see regional-power-and-the-dams/2022/03/.)