Final Environmental Impact Statement Completes Four Year Federal Process; Settles Debate on the Value of the Lower Snake River Dams
Northwest RiverPartners Commends Thorough & Holistic EIS Process; Advocates Greater Efforts Around Climate to Support Salmon Recovery
Northwest RiverPartners today welcomed the much anticipated Final
Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) released by federal action agencies as
part of the Columbia River System Operations (CRSO) process.
Developed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Bonneville Power
Administration, and the US Bureau of Reclamation, with input from tribal nations
and Northwest states, the FEIS provides a comprehensive, final analysis of the
four lower Snake River dams (LSRD). It balances the needs of salmon, power
supply, and social welfare in the Pacific Northwest.
The report concluded that the best option for fulfilling the multiple objectives of
improving salmonid survival, providing a reliable electric grid, and reaching the
Northwest’s clean energy future is to maintain the four LSRD with adjusted
Importantly, the FEIS acknowledges the role of the LSRD as a critical source of
affordable and dependable energy for the Northwest and reiterates that without
the LSRD, the Northwest would be much more susceptible to energy shortages
and regional blackouts.
The socio-economic consequences to communities of losing the LSRD would
have been dire. The FEIS estimates that the cost of replacing the LSRD with
other renewable energy sources backed up with batteries would have
approached $800 million per year. That roughly equates to a 25% increase in
electricity bills for millions of Northwest residents and businesses.
Exorbitant electricity bills would create economic chaos at a time when we are
already reeling from a global pandemic, a homelessness crisis, and an affordable
Achieving a sustainable future requires that we embrace the needs of all
communities, and, in particular, the escalating plight of our most vulnerable;
Native American tribes, communities of color, immigrant communities, and lowincome families.
The report is clear that the potential benefit to salmon from dam breaching varies
widely according to modeling assumptions, but the harm to communities that rely
on hydropower would have been devastating.
Salmon a Major FEIS Focus
Salmon and steelhead recovery is a critical area of focus in the FEIS. In
particular, there has been much debate about the importance of increased spill
levels at dams for salmonid survival.
Many salmon advocates believe spilling water with juvenile salmonids over the
dams’ spillways—rather than allowing smolts to go through fish bypass systems
or past turbines—is beneficial for the salmon and steelhead life cycle. Others
argue that higher spill could induce gas bubble trauma in juveniles and increase
up-river migration for adults.
The FEIS has adopted an operation that invests millions of dollars annually to
test whether increased spill will help or hinder salmonids. The new operation
incorporates dramatically higher levels of spill than ever before as part of seasonlong hydroelectric operations. This operation is part of the continuation of the
Flexible Spill Agreement arrived at by Northwest states and many tribal nations in
2018 and put into action in 2019.
The FEIS also calls for continued significant investments in habitat restoration as
part of a holistic approach to helping salmonids.
Today’s EIS release coincides with the release of a NOAA Fisheries’ Biological
Opinion, which examined the proposed hydroelectric operations under the EIS
Preferred Alternative. It found that the recommended operations are consistent
with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
While past Biological Opinions have been found by the federal court to be
inconsistent with the requirements of the ESA, it is our belief that the great
lengths taken by the federal agencies to examine dam breaching and other
options will demonstrate to the court that the federal action agencies have
presented a thoughtful plan, which is consistent with salmon and steelhead
NWRP espouses hydropower as an important source of affordable, clean energy
for the Northwest and embraces the critical need to protect our salmon. We
welcome the findings presented in the FEIS and the Biological Opinion. We have
always believed that salmon and dams can coexist.
Climate Change & Salmon
We are deeply aware of the need to find strong solutions for the plight of our
salmon—a tenet profoundly acknowledged in the EIS.
Given the near-synchronous decline in worldwide salmon populations,
addressing climate change and deteriorating oceans are necessary steps for
NOAA Fisheries’ analysis from the Biological Opinion shows that ocean warming
and acidification due to climate change represent a significant and growing threat
to healthy salmonid populations. Breaching the lower Snake River dams,
conversely, would almost certainly increase the region’s carbon footprint and
contribute to further harmful ocean changes.
To meet salmon recovery efforts, we advocate a more reasonable approach
through a continued push towards decarbonization to help reverse the worldwide
trend in declining salmon runs.
Thorough, Collaborative Process
We hope the Environmental Impact Statement and its in-depth decision-making
process bring closure for all stakeholders involved and a firmer conviction around
the critical role of the hydropower system, which provides the Northwest with the
most affordable carbon-free, renewable energy in the nation.
About Northwest RiverPartners
Northwest RiverPartners (NWRP) is a not-for-profit, member-driven organization.
We represent not-for-profit, community-owned utilities across Washington,
Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Nevada. We also proudly represent
farmers, ports, and businesses across the region that support clean energy and
NWRP is focused on raising awareness about how the Northwest’s hydropower
system betters communities and the natural environment, and we encourage
science-based solutions that help hydropower and salmon coexist and