Discussing whether OPALCO should pay dues to Lower Snake River Dam lobbyists

by Sharon Grace

Is breaching the four lower Snake River dams a tough decision for us or OPALCO? While anything can be argued from many sides, where do the facts lead?

The Bonneville Power Administration-funded Fish Passage Center has established that the four lower Snake River dams are driving salmon and steelhead (“salmon”) runs to extinction. Therefore, we must make a choice between saving Snake River salmon or preserving the arguable benefits the dams provide, that either have been, or can be, replaced.

If you support dam breaching, please let OPALCO know.

It is a myth that breaching the four lower Snake River dams presents a choice between clean energy or iconic Northwest salmon. We can have both clean energy generated by existing new renewables—primarily solar and wind installations—and we can have abundant salmon runs. The Fish Passage Center’s studies reveal that if the lower Snake dams are breached and more water flushed over the four Columbia mainstem dams, spring/summer chinook salmon abundance could increase as much as four-fold.

OPALCO consumers will pay less for electricity if the dams are breached. The lower Snake River dams do not produce low-cost energy. In 2020 the federal government completed the Columbia River Systems Operations/EIS, (CRSO EIS). It showed the four dams on the lower Snake River must be breached to recover salmon. And with breaching salmon will be restored and breaching will reduce Bonneville’s annual costs by up to 15 percent compared to the disastrous status quo—the No Action Alternative. See Table 3-309 above from the CRSO EIS. (MO3 is the breaching Alternative.)

Lower Snake River dam breaching will recover a huge ecosystem and help reduce climate change. The dams have degraded the entire lower Snake River ecosystem. Algae growth, spurred by agricultural runoff trapped by the dams, decomposes in the reservoirs’ oxygen depleted water to produce significant amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The reservoirs also have flooded out riparian areas that previously acted as carbon sinks. Snake River Basin forests are less healthy because the dams have deprived them of marine nutrients formerly provided by abundant salmon runs. Consequently, the forests have reduced ability to sequester carbon, and are more susceptible to wild fires that emit catastrophic amounts of hydrocarbons, further propelling climate change. Breaching the dams will recover salmon, return marine nutrients to the ecosystem, restore carbon sequestering riparian areas, and rebuild healthy forests.

We do not need the energy produced by the lower Snake River dams. There is a glut of energy in the West. Over 50% of the dams’ hydropower is produced during Spring runoff, the months with the least demand for power. The Snake River is at its lowest flows during the hot summer and coldest winter months when energy is needed most. Despite contrary claims, the lower Snake River dams did not provide anything other than their ordinary output of energy during the June 2021 heat dome and the December 2021 cold snap.

Salmon on the lower Snake River are not recovering, as shown by the chart below. The orange line on the chart shows spring/summer chinook spiraling toward extinction. These are the fish the Southern Resident orcas historically depended upon to get them through the winter.

OPALCO contact info: phone 360-376-3500, email communications@opalco.com, Sharon Grace, San Juan Island, sharongrace@centurylink.net.

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