This spring, a fresh round of CleanHydro advertising is telling the story of hydropower dams and the incredible power of the Columbia and Snake Rivers to benefit our daily lives. You may have seen the new television ad “Snow Melts” that describes how, in the Northwest, when snow melts, rain falls and rivers form, something very special happens: renewable electric energy is created without adding even an ounce of carbon to our air. Fortunately, snow appears adequate this year in the Rockies that feed the Columbia and Snake Rivers, even while scarce in the Cascades range and on the west side.
Now in its third year, the CleanHydro TV and print public education effort reaches seven million people across the Northwest. It celebrates our dams and river systems’ multiple benefits: vital irrigation; flood control for cities and towns; river commerce and a robust port system; and of course, hydropower—the region’s most affordable and reliable source of clean, renewable energy.
Our utility, farming, port and business partners who make CleanHydro possible deserve credit for their vision and leadership. They simply won’t let up, even as others put hydro down. Incredibly, the anti-dam faction wants to tear down some of the dams that generate 60 percent of the Northwest’s energy and 90 percent of its renewable energy.
Clearly, the anti-dam contingent is out of step with the Northwest, where a huge majority of residents continue to express strong support for hydropower. The latest proof is in the results of a February 2015 opinion poll by DHM Research. Over 75 percent of residents identify hydro as a clean, renewable source of energy, and 67 percent believe it should be declared a renewable resource just like wind and solar.
But recent attacks on hydro from filmmakers sponsored by Patagonia—with its deep corporate pockets and agenda to destroy dams nationwide—demonstrate why we must continue to tell the CleanHydro story.
They and other hydro opponents have targeted the four federal dams on the lower Snake River in southeastern Washington, which provide critical energy, trade, flood control and other benefits to families, farmers and businesses. Perhaps because these critics are getting little traction elsewhere, they recently have directed their misinformation campaign toward young people at Northwest universities and music festivals. This, while Patagonia operates nearly all of its factories (according to its website) in China and other developing countries notorious for spewing coal emissions into the skies.
Fortunately, DHM’s poll results show that Northwest residents are no fools, especially when it comes to the Snake River dams. Anti-hydro efforts have yet to erode Northwest support for these dams; on the contrary, support is growing. In the 2015 poll, 70 percent of Northwest residents agree that the Snake River dams are critical to the region, up from 60 percent in 2014. Only ten percent of residents say the dams should come out—a slight decrease in support for removal, compared to last year.
In such a landscape, where large corporations attack our dams and target young people with unfair and one-sided messages, we need to stay vigilant. People who moved to the Northwest from other places, as well as younger generations who either haven’t been educated about hydropower or are being intentionally misled, don’t always know how it benefits the environment and the economy.
Adding to this mix are the so-called fish advocates. They once again are suing over a federal salmon plan that provides $1 billion in habitat restoration funds and directs how the dams will be operated to minimize their impact on salmon. Despite the total $14 billion that Northwest families and businesses have already spent to make dams more fish-friendly, these opponents won’t stop unless dams are removed. The plaintiffs’ ultimate goal—unrealistic and shortsighted in the climate change era, when we need all the carbon-free hydropower we can get—is to return rivers to a free-flowing state that existed before widespread human and economic development.
Hydro’s benefits, of course, are many and clear: It doesn’t burn any fossil fuels and keeps our energy carbon footprint about half that of other parts of the country. As an abundant, reliable and low-cost energy source, it is drawing new, energy-sensitive employers such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and BMW to the region and continues to ensure that traditional industries and small businesses thrive.
These factors and many more demonstrate why CleanHydro is so important today and into the future. I hope you’ll join the conversation as we continue to share the true story of hydro and our river system with the people of the Northwest.