Flexible, Reliable, and Affordable

  • Northwest hydropower acts as a massive, clean battery for wind and solar power. We can store water behind the dams and then release it when demand for energy is high. In this way, hydropower helps the region add even more renewable power to its mix of resources.
  • Hydropower helps to stabilize our region’s power grid by providing voltage support in areas where power wouldn’t otherwise flow. This is especially true of the lower Snake River dams, which support the 500-kilovolt transmission lines that run from Western Montana to Eastern Washington.
  • Our region’s early investment in hydropower has created an important source of clean, affordable energy for families and businesses.
  • Like wind for wind power and solar for solar power, the water that fuels hydropower is not subject to price fluctuations. This characteristic helps maintain a relatively consistent cost for those who depend on hydropower to provide electricity to their homes and businesses.

Enables Agriculture

  • The reservoirs behind dams provide an important source of irrigation for large areas of Northwest agricultural land that would otherwise be too dry to farm. Six percent of the Columbia River basin’s yearly runoff is used to irrigate about 7.8 million acres of Northwest farmland. Northwest farmers make productive use of this irrigation through sustainable agricultural practices.
  • Hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers provide vital navigation for the barges used by inland farmers to share their goods with the Northwest and the world.
  • The Columbia River trade corridor supports over 50 million tons of foreign trade at a value of over $24 billion annually. The Columbia River is the nation’s number one wheat export gateway and number two for corn and soybean exports. It is the third largest grain export gateway in the world, as well as the West Coast’s leader in mineral bulks, wood exports and is a significant auto import and export gateway.
  • The Northwest is also a major producer and exporter of other vital crops such as apples, potatoes, corn, peas, alfalfa, hay, and grapes.

Supports Commerce and Jobs

  • Some of the largest tech companies in the world have located facilities in the Northwest due to carbon-free, low-cost power. As noted above, most of that power is produced by hydroelectric resources. This influx of facilities has led to the creation of new jobs and community infrastructure such as parks and schools.
  • More traditional industries have also located in the Northwest because of our hydropower resources. Industries such as paper, chemical, food processing, and manufacturing represent hundreds of thousands of Northwest jobs. Today, they continue to rely on clean, low-cost hydro to remain competitive in international markets.
  • Tourism from river cruise ships brings $15 to $20 million annually to local economies.

Protection from Natural Disaster: The 1948 Vanport Tragedy & the 1996 Pineapple Express

It is hard to imagine it now, but prior to the construction of dams on the Columbia and Willamette rivers, Portland and many other river towns were subjected to severe flooding. The problem reached a critical point, when a city was wiped from the map.

Constructed in 1942 (near modern-day Delta Park) Vanport, Oregon was established to house the laborers who were helping the US wartime effort. However, on Memorial Day of 1948, the town’s 18,500 residents lost their homes in just minutes as the Columbia River washed away all that they owned. In total, 15 residents perished in the flood.

Following the disaster, the Army Corps of Engineers responded by developing a reservoir storage plan for the Columbia River Basin, using hydroelectric dams to control the excess water.

Nearly 50 years later, in 1996, a “Pineapple Express” of warm rains hit record mountain snowpack in the Northwest. A flood reminiscent of the Vanport disaster threatened to destroy the homes and businesses of Portland and near-by river towns. But through dam operations on the Columbia, Snake and Willamette rivers, the Columbia was kept two feet lower than it would have been without the dams. Estimates showed that flood control operations saved the region over $1 billion in damage. More importantly, it kept communities along the river safe from what would have otherwise been a devastating natural disaster.

The Value of Hydro