Response to Letter from Governor Brown on the Lower Snake River Dams
By Kurt Miller, Executive Director, Northwest RiverPartners
Northwest RiverPartners (NWRP) and its members advocate for a clean energy future that
embraces the preservation of fish & wildlife and doesn’t leave vulnerable communities behind.
Our organization supports the lower Snake River dams (LSRD) because of the large amount of
carbon-free, affordable electricity they produce as well as the economic base these dams
provide for Northwest agricultural workers.
While we appreciate the intention behind Governor Brown’s letter, and we support her near-term
practical suggestions for increased fish hatchery production, we are disappointed by her
advocacy for breaching the LSRD as a long-term solution.
We believe that the many billions of dollars it would take to breach the dams and replace their
capabilities would be much more effectively spent on cleaning up the Puget Sound, where the
Southern Resident orcas spend most of their lives.
It is well documented that the Puget Sound suffers from high levels of toxicity which affect both
Pacific Salmon and orcas. Salmon in the Puget Sound have been found with measurable levels
of antidepressants, nicotine, herbicides, and even cocaine in their systems. Because orcas eat
large amounts of salmon, these toxins become concentrated in their fat. These substances may
be passed along to orca calves through their mothers’ milk.
It will take massive investments and the whole region pulling together to repair the Puget Sound
and its tributaries so that the area is suitable for healthy salmon and orca populations.
We respect the Governor’s ability to offer an opinion on the LSRD, but it is important to note that
the federal National Environmental Policy Act governs the operations of the federal dams.
The NEPA process takes a holistic approach, examining fish and wildlife, socioeconomic
aspects, power supply, and irrigation and barging. We are confident that this comprehensive
examination will find that the best course for the Northwest is to keep the lower Snake River
dams in place. The NEPA Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the LSRD is scheduled to
be released to the Federal Register on 2/28/20.
Northwest Energy Shortage
As Gov. Brown has stated, it is imperative that we preserve our hydropower system to help
achieve our long-term climate goals and safely add intermittent renewables, such as wind and
solar power, to the grid.
However, what is conspicuously missing from the Governor’s comments is the dire situation the
Northwest currently faces due to the very real possibility of a regional energy shortage.
Northwest utilities are shutting down thousands of megawatts of coal generation plants to help
fight climate change. Most energy forecasters are now predicting the possibility of an energy
shortage or even region-wide blackouts. Breaching the LSRD–which can generate enough
carbon-free energy each year to power a city the size of Seattle–would greatly increase the risk
to the Northwest.
Contrary to dated reports, the capabilities of these dams cannot be easily or inexpensively
replaced. A recent analysis showed that the energy costs, alone, for LSRD replacement would
be close to $1 billion annually, It would also require new long-distance transmission lines to be
constructed and the installation of untested amounts of utility-scale batteries.
At a time when the region is very concerned about equitable energy solutions, this kind of cost
increase would be particularly punishing to vulnerable communities across the Northwest.
We collectively share the responsibility to preserve endangered salmon and look to decarbonize
our economy in responsible ways. NWRP embraces science-based efforts to that end.
Recent science has questioned the potential benefit of breaching the LSRD for salmon
recovery. The NOAA Fisheries Science Center recently published a peer-reviewed study1 that
brings into serious question the benefit that increased spill levels or dam breaching would mean
for Snake River salmon.
Additionally, researchers have noted a near synchronous decline in worldwide salmon
populations, likely related to climate change and its effect on the oceans. Our oceans are sick
with excess heat and carbon, resulting in acidification and the loss of prey critical to salmon.
Given this trend, it seems very unlikely that we can restore healthy Snake River salmon
populations until our oceans return to a healthy state. This is a key reason we believe it is wrong
to remove the LSRD, which can displace as much carbon as two Boardman coal plants running
24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
If we truly want to save salmon, we need to protect our oceans from excessive heat and carbon.
If we genuinely want our clean energy future to include everyone, we need it to be affordable.
To do both, the Northwest needs the lower Snake River dams.
About Northwest RiverPartners
Northwest RiverPartners is a member-driven organization that serves not-for-profit, communityowned electric utilities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. We also proudly
represent partners that support clean energy, low-carbon transportation, and agricultural jobs.