Obama Administration Comes to Portland, Talks Salmon

Yesterday, Dr. Lubchenco, head of the NOAA and Nancy Sutley who leads the White House Council on Environmental Quality came to Portland to discuss the latest salmon recovery plan for the Columbia basin with government scientists, state agencies and federal officials in a closed door meeting at the Double Tree Hotel in Portland and salmon activists were outside the hotel  to greet them:

Save Our Wild Salmon Rally

Save Our Wild Salmon Rally

Also present at the meeting were representatives of the State Oregon, the only western state to oppose in the plan in court and representatives of the Nez Perce and Spokane tribes, the only stakeholder tribes to oppose the federal plan.

The new administration may offer hope for solving the crisis on the Columbia and notably the Snake River.  As litigation drags on into its second decade and plan after plan has been rejected by the courts, the combatants in the Salmon War may be wearying and there is a glimmer of hope that the feds are open to real solutions.  The tide may be turning in favor of the salmon, even as in progressive Portland, the Oregonian vigorously argues to preserve the failing status quo.

Scientists have consistently stated that breaching the four lower Snake River dams that violate federal clean water quality standards is the best hope for restoring the Columbia’s once prolific runs of wild spring/summer and fall chinook. This would provide adult fish easier access to some of the best and most underutilized habitat in the lower 48, the high Idaho wilderness areas.  More importantly, breaching these dams would give smolts a fighting chance, up to 90% are killed trying to pass the hydrosystem.

Thus far, most Northwest politicians, notably our representative Peter DeFazio have resisted any attempt to examine the issue of dam breaching on the Snake.  Peter DeFazio went so far as to go out of his way to kill a studies bill, the Salmon Economic Analysis and Planning Act , that would have directed the GAO to among other things examine the likely economic costs and benefits  of breaching the four lower Snake River dams.  In my experience when someone doesn’t want you to even ask the question they know and are afraid of the answer.  Anyway, SEAPA is dead at least for now thanks in part  to Congressman DeFazio’s efforts.

Save Our Wild Salmon, Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited and the rest of our coalition partners endorse a measured approach to breaching the four lower Snake River dams.  The reason politicians and BPA administrators and politicians such as Peter DeFazio so stridently resist examination of this issue is they know exactly how fragile their arguments are:

1.  We can’t replace these dams contribution to the regional grid.

Hogwash! These dams contribute around 1000 aMW, far less than nameplate capacity.  That is not insignificant but it is also not irreplaceable.  The Northwest has saved 3,700 mW since 1978 through efficiency measures, around 185 aMW annually.  Energy conservation alone could render these dams contribution largely irrelevant in a period of a few years.  But conservation isn’t our only option.  The NW Energy Coalition has identified base load sources that could replace this power.

2.  Conservation isn’t replacement.  We need additional power sources.

True, and we have the energy resources to do this without the four lower Snake River dams. To meet our regional goals of a 15% reduction in carbon emission by 2020 and to save wild salmon in the Columbia we need to produce or save 4000 a MW to meet new demand, supply 500 aMW to power electric vehicles, replace 1000 a MW from the loss of the Snake River dams and retire 1000 a MW of coal fired generation.  Total new demand by 2050 is estimated at around 20,000 aMW.  In order to meet CO2 goals we will have to retire the entire coal generated portion of the grid and generate an additional 20,ooo aMW meaning we will need 25,600 aMW in new clean power by 2050.  It sounds daunting but . . .

Bottom Line: The Northwest has over 81,000 aMW in identified clean energy potential, a number that dwarfs both existing and projected demand.  In that context, 1000 aMW are a drop in the bucket.

3.  Global Warming.

See the paragraph above.  For more information see the brief Bright Future synopsis or download the full report here.

4.  We need the ancillary benefits, flood control, barge transportation and irrigation these dams provide.

Nope.  First of all, these are run of the river dams that provide little flood control.  Additionally, sediment is piling up behind Lower Granite dam which will require either massive dredging at enormous cost  or Lewiston will have to raise its levees ending  up below reservoir level, an unappealing prospect in many ways including from a  flood hazard perspective.  As we’ve seen in smaller scale dam removal projects, water for can be supplied by pumps.  Area farmers could transport their product to market by rail.  Heck, I’d be willing to subsidize them if it meant these dams coming down.

The evidence is clear and convincing.  The only question now is whether we cling to a failing status quo as the wild salmon of the Snake slide toward extirpation or do we confront the challenges of the future head on?  I know where Trout Unlimited, Save Our Wild Salmon and our coalition partners stand on that question and soon we will see where the Obama administration stands as well.–KM

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5 Responses to Obama Administration Comes to Portland, Talks Salmon

  1. coolspawner says:

    Great post! I hope for some leadership from President Obama on this issue. And Congressman DeFazio: we’re counting on you too, brother!

  2. prettypants says:

    Amen KM! Thanks for writing up an excellent post! The Obama administration has made bold moves in its first leg, let’s hope that change is coming to the Columbia-Snake. I have to believe that it is time for our federal government stand up to the industry interests that have stifled our region and pushed our wild salmon and steelhead to the brink of extinction. Thanks again for calling out those who deserve it! Now if only the Oregonian could find the gumption to do the same.

  3. Nonydog says:

    Sounds like an important rally and an important NW tour. Dr. Lubchenco’s intellect and scientific background can only be good for NW salmon. Thanks for the info –

  4. Rob R says:

    BRAVO!!!!!!! Your clear thinking and analysis is much appreciated!!!

    Say, didn’t the Army Corps do a study on the economics of dam removal years ago? My recollection is that they did, and their own numbers showed a net economic benefit for all associated communities from dam removal. I also recall that it was not well publicized…

    Perhaps our cranky ol’ DeFazio is right, but for the wrong reasons. Maybe we should accept the study that was already done by the Army Corps and get down to business??

  5. Linn N. says:

    Dear KM,
    You do a wonderful job of laying out the salmon crisis we are in and highlighting the particular dams which are the most lethal in the Col/Snake power system (killing up to 90% of the fish).

    They simply must go! Thank you for providing answers to the common incorrect assumptions about lower Snake River dam removal. I particularly enjoyed your take on the very real opportunities to replace the power generated on those dams with conservation and clean energy, things which are realizable now.

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