From Northwest RiverPartners on July 31,
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 operations.
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 housing shortage.
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 low-income 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
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 season-long 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
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).
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
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 salmon recovery.
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
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.