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The many consequences of breaching the Snake River dams

Updated: May 10

In an era of moving towards more electrification and increasing power demand, it makes no sense to remove a clean, renewable power source. Hydropower is an important provider of reliable and clean energy for everyone in the Northwest. Many dams also provide important baseload power reliability to help a stressed energy grid during periods of extreme hot or cold.

The Snake River dams are critical to the infrastructure of our region, providing not only reliable power but also many other economic benefits. Removing these dams would have many negative impacts on our region.

You don't have to take my word for it. Here are some of the findings from the multi-year public process in 2020 conducted by The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and Bonneville Power Administration to produce a comprehensive scientific review of the issues surrounding the Snake River dams and possible breaching:

  • “[Dam breaching] would not meet the objective to Provide a Reliable and Economic Power Supply . . . The lower Snake River projects provide more than 2,000 MW of sustained peaking capabilities during the winter, and a quarter of the federal power system’s current reserves holding capability. The dams play an important role in maintaining reliability in the production of power used to supply load in the Pacific Northwest. Their flexibility and dispatchability are valuable components of the CRS. [Dam breaching] would more than double the region’s risk of power shortages…”

  • The costs of an expanded zero-carbon resource portfolio designed to replace the full capability of the four lower Snake River dams would be significant: up to twice the $400 million assumed to maintain regional reliability. Additional variables such as resource financing uncertainties and the uncertainty in the cost and availability of demand response add to this rate sensitivity. If Bonneville had to replace the four lower Snake River projects’ full capability with zero-carbon resources, the rate pressure could be up to 50% on wholesale power rates.”

  • “The lower Snake River shallow draft navigation channel would no longer be available, eliminating commercial navigation to multiple port facilities on the lower Snake River… As a result, the cost to transport goods to market would increase.”

  • “Under this scenario, increases in vehicular accident rates, highway traffic and congestion would occur. In addition, additional wear and tear on roadways could result in additional road repair costs of up to $10 million annually.”

  • “Farmers could also experience increased production costs associated with higher transportation costs for upriver movements (i.e., fertilizer, crops). There would be additional demands on existing road and rail infrastructure as well as at barging facilities near the Tri-Cities, Washington, increasing traffic and air pollution.”

  • “Adverse regional economic effects would occur as the jobs and income provided by the four primary commercial navigation ports would be curtailed, including the Port of Lewiston, the Port of Clarkston, the Port of Whitman County (Wilma, Almota, Central Ferry), and the Port of Garfield.”

  • “Despite the major benefits to fish expected from [dam breaching], this alternative was not identified as the Preferred Alternative due to the adverse impacts to other resources such as transportation, power reliability and affordability, and greenhouse gas emissions.”

This multi-year scientific and public review process, which was undertaken by both a Democrat and Republican administration, made one thing abundantly clear: dam breaching on the lower Snake River is completely unnecessary and unwarranted.

In addition, Congress authorized these dams, and only Congress has the power to remove them. Thankfully, many of the congressional members elected to the areas surrounding the Snake River dams are working to protect the economic and environmental benefits they provide.

This includes local lawmakers as well. The Idaho legislature this year adopted SJM 103, to make it clear that the state is dam proud and strongly supports the clean renewable hydro baseload power, navigation, and irrigation provided by the Snake River dams. The Idaho Legislature declared:

“the State of Idaho opposes any actions to degrade the functionality, in whole or in part, to remove or breach any dams on the Columbia-Snake River System or its tributaries…”

Protecting the Snake River dams and other federal water infrastructure is pivotal to the Northwest. We must remain dam strong for the benefit of our region. 

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