The Snake River dams are powerful and irreplaceable energy producers for the Northwest. Together, the four federal dams on the lower Snake River produce enough energy to power a city the size of Seattle every year, and are capable of providing over twice that amount for short periods of time during power emergencies.

Unlike coal- or natural gas-fired power, Snake River hydropower is 100 percent renewable and adds no carbon to the skies. The lower Snake River dams also provide other important benefits to the region, including river navigation that enables over $20 billion in trade and commerce, recreation opportunities, and irrigation that allows farmers to feed the Northwest and the world.

The Snake dams have been targeted by some who argue for removing them, claiming that the energy the dams produce could be replaced by wind power or conservation measures. But wind and other resources can’t be stored, so reliable resources like hydropower, nuclear, coal and gas must always be available to meet the full load at all times to assure the lights stay on even when the wind isn’t blowing. Wind and conservation can’t reliably supply the same volume of renewable energy or any of the other benefits that the Snake River dams provide.

  • A 2015 BPA reliability analysis concluded that replacement of the lower Snake Dams with natural gas generation would increase the region’s carbon dioxide emissions by 2.0 to 2.6 million metric tons annually. At the low end, this would be equivalent of adding 421,000 passenger cars to the region’s roads each year.
  • The Snake River dams supply 12 percent of all the energy produced on average by the entire federal hydro system and 5 percent of the Northwest’s total hydro energy.
  • The Snake River dams help in dealing with power emergencies because they can provide over 2,650 megawatts over a period of 10 hours per day for five consecutive days.
  • Because of their location, the Snake River dams provide voltage stability on a long transmission path between western Montana and eastern Washington. Without these dams, the carrying capability of certain major transmission lines would have to be reduced and reliability would suffer.

No Measurable Methane Emissions

Some hydropower reservoirs that are rich in nutrients support the growth of large amounts of vegetation, which decompose and release methane gas. These emissions  can contribute to climate change.

Fortunately, dam reservoirs on the Columbia and Snake rivers don’t have these necessary characteristics for methane production. As a result, they don’t produce measurable amounts of methane gas. This lack of measurable methane emissions is another reason why hydropower is the Northwest’s largest source of clean renewable energy.

Take a look at what the US Army Corps of Engineers has to say about Columbia and Snake River methane Emissions:  Columbia and Snake River Methane Emissions Facts

Young Salmon Survival High Through Snake River Dams

Of the 13 salmon and steelhead stocks in the Columbia Basin listed under the Endangered Species Act, only four migrate through the lower Snake River dams. Survival through these dams for young salmon heading downstream to the ocean is high, with a survival rate of 97 percent, on average. Juvenile steelhead survival is even better, averaging 99.5 percent through the dams.

Take a look at what NOAA Fisheries has to say about the work being done to Snake River fall chinook and the results of those efforts: Snake River Fall Chinook by the Numbers

Dam Removal? A Costly Idea that Doesn’t Promise to Help Fish

Congress authorized the construction and operation of the federal dams, including the Snake River dams, and their multiple uses. Only Congress could authorize their removal, which is highly unlikely given these facts:

  • Renewable, non-polluting power would be replaced with carbon-emitting, fossil-fuel-fired generation.
  • Cost to replace lower Snake River dams’ capacity and energy while maintaining system reliability with natural gas would be $274 million to $372 million per year, according to a 2015 BPA analysis.
  • Bonneville Power Administration wholesale rates to Northwest utilities would increase 24-29 percent, which translates into a 12 to 15 percent hike in families’ and businesses’ electric bills.
  • A 2015 BPA analysis concluded it would cost $1.3-2.6 billion dollars to study and remove the Snake River dams.  Millions more would be needed to compensate for the impacts of lost river trade and irrigation.
  • Only four species of salmon listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act are affected by the Snake River dams. Survival through the dams for young salmon heading downstream to the ocean is already high, at 97 percent on average.
  • Removal offers no assurance for recovering Snake River fish; it is not a “silver bullet” and it does nothing to address hatcheries, harvest, ocean conditions, predation or habitat degradation in other parts of the Columbia River Basin.
  • More adult chinook will have passed Lower Granite dam in the last 5 years (2015 included) than in the previous 37 years combined.
    • Snake River Dams Bring Myriad Benefits 

      Dam TypeRemoved DamsSnake River Dams
      LocationElwhaGlinesCondit CanyonLower GraniteLower MonumentalIce HarborLittle Goose
      Power Generation (capacity)19MW6MW14MW810MW810MW603MW810MW
      Transmission Stabilityxxxx
      Power Peaking/Emergency Outage Recoveryxxxx
      Salmon Passagexxxx
      Wind Integrationxxxx

      Reducing Our Carbon Footprint 

      According to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, removing the Snake River dams would add between 3 and 4.5 million metric tons of CO2 to Northwest skies each year. That’s because the carbon-free power these dams provide would have to be replaced in large part by carbon-emitting coal-fired plants and natural gas.

      Ten percent of all Northwest exports pass through the four lower Snake River dams to provide food and products around the world. Carbon emissions would increase further because trucks and rail cars would have to replace the barge and shipping traffic that currently moves cargo on the river. The rivers are navigable because of the dam and lock system. Barging keeps 700,000 trucks off Northwest highways and reduces carbon emissions.

      It would take two nuclear, three coal-fired, or six gas-fired power plants to replace the average annual power produced by the Snake River dams.

      It would take two nuclear, three coal-fired, or six gas-fired power plants (exact amounts depend on the size of the power plant) to replace the average annual power produced by the Snake River dams. Energy conservation and intermittent resources like wind and solar can’t replace them.


      What You Can Do

      Sign a letter to show your support for the Snake River dams and the multiple benefits they provide to the Northwest.

      Show Your Support!

      nwrpValue of Snake River Dams