Click one of the links below to see information on the topic:
- PNWA Editorial
- Not Dams
- Coalition of Smart Salmon
- Fish Facts
- It’s Still the Ocean, Stupid
- Breaching Dams is Not the Answer
- Dams Are Not the Problem: Fact Sheet – PDF (Click to download)
Breaching dams is not the answer
Breaching dams is not a fish versus economy proposition. Breaching dams is extreme and risky for both.
Breaching dams is risky for fish
Breaching dams is not a sure fix for Snake River fish. Only four of the 26 West Coast runs listed under the Endangered Species Act are on the Snake River. Therefore, the reasons for decline go far beyond the Snake River dams.
Several billion dollars have been spent to improve fish survival through the river system. One can argue that not every single dollar was effectively spent. However, the bottom line result is that conditions through the system have improved tremendously since the 1970s, when mortality was high and fish runs were declining dramatically. NOAA Fisheries’ science center says that, today, survival through the system for Snake River Chinook matches or exceeds what it was before the Snake River dams were built.
Furthermore, conditions in the ocean are proving to be far more important in determining adult returns. In the 1970s and 80s, ocean conditions were poor and runs were declining. Over the last four years, ocean conditions have improved and salmon have been returning in record numbers.
If the purpose of removing dams is to increase fish survival, and if survival is currently higher than it was without the dams, breaching dams simply doesn’t make sense.
Breaching dams is bad for the environment
Breaching dams eliminates hydropower and barge navigation. Hydropower does not pollute the air. It has no emissions and does not contribute to global warming. Navigation is the least polluting mode of transportation. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, per ton-mile, barges consume less fuel (only 40% of rail and 11% of truck) and produce significantly fewer emissions (1/4 the emissions of rail, 1/10 the emissions of trucks). Breaching dams would put hundreds of thousands more trucks on the highway through the Columbia Gorge and on the streets of Portland and Vancouver.
Breaching dams would hurt the economy
Breaching the dams puts the entire Northwest economy in jeopardy. Hydropower fuels the factories, powers the high tech companies, lights the businesses, and heats the homes of the Pacific Northwest. Breaching the Snake River dams would push electric rates higher in Portland and throughout the region. The cost of lost hydropower would be $400 million every year, forever, plus the cost of constructing and fueling new power plants.
The inland barge system feeds Portland and the Columbia River ports. Columbia River navigation supports $14 billion in international trade. The river is one of the largest export gateways in the United States, ranking # 1 in the U.S for wheat and barley; # 2 in the U.S. for corn; and # 1 on the West Coast for mineral bulks, forest products; and paper products. It accounts for over 40,000 jobs in the Portland area alone.
Whether you care about fish, the economy, or both, common sense says breaching dams is not the answer.
*Glenn Vanselow, Ph.D., is executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association. PNWA has been working to enhance economic vitality in the Pacific Northwest since 1943.
To save Northwest salmon, four larger obstacles must be removed. And they aren’t dams.
There are at least four big obstacles to saving Northwest salmon. But contrary to recent claims, they aren’t dams. They’re mindsets— ways of thinking that have led the region down false paths and brought about mistakes that have been equally costly for people and salmon.
The Northwest needs a reasonable, balanced and fair salmon solution. To get it, we must overcome the following:
1. The Us vs. Them mentality. Good guys vs. bad guys. Salmon vs. dams. Winners vs. losers. That approach is polarising. In the salmon issue, the Northwest has a common problem, and it won’t be solved through adversarial tactics. We need a win-win solution. Good science can provide one.
2. Work at cross purposes. Salmon recovery is hindered by conflicting policies, practices and laws. For example: Federal law protects migratory birds that are major salmon predators — yet up to 40 percent of some salmon stocks are consumed by birds, according to National Marine Fisheries Service research. There are conflicts between hatchery and wild fish, between protecting endangered salmon and maintaining harvest. These and other conflicting policies must be resolved.
3. The search for silver bullet. Salmon have an incredibly complex life cycle. They’re affected in myriad ways by ocean temperatures and conditions, food supplies, harvesting policies, hatchery management and a host of river conditions. Anyone who promotes a single, “silver bullet” solution like dam breaching isn’t dealing in science.
4. The elevation of politics over science. For too long, politics has overshadowed science in guiding salmon recovery efforts. For example, some of the most recent scientific studies show increased survival under current river measures such as tearing down the four lower Snake River daas.
The Northwest can save the salmon while maintaining a healthy environment and a strong economy. We can do so by supporting a reasonable, balanced, fair approach grounded in sound science. Ultimately, that will benefit everyone, including the salmon.
News Release FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT:
Despite Six Years of Drought, Salmon Continue to Return in Near-Record Numbers PORTLAND, OR – For the sixth straight year the Northwest is experiencing drought conditions. Despite the recent return to a more normal weather pattern, snowpack in the mountains remains well below average, translating to low water levels in the rivers this spring and summer.
Myth: Dams are the main cause of the decline in salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
Fact: While dams are a contributing factor, the decline of salmon and steelhead in Northwest rivers is a complex problem. It is not possible to point to one specific cause or solve it with one specific action. Historically, these runs have been affected by overfishing, poor ocean conditions, reduced spawning grounds, dams and reservoirs (federal and non-federal), and overall habitat degradation. Several of these conditions continue today. Several major dams in the Columbia River Basin have cut off fish access to spawning grounds, but others have successful fish passage facilities. Great strides have been and are being made to improve fish passage at dams, habitat conditions and harvest and hatcheries management. In the past three years, Columbia and Snake River total adult salmon and steelhead returns have been record runs, the best in decades and some of the best since 1938. Improved ocean conditions deserve some of the credit, but the efforts of many agencies, organizations and individuals in the region are also contributing.
Myth: On the lower Snake River, the choice is fish or dams.
Fact: It is not a choice between dams or salmon. The federal agencies operate the dams in accordance with a NOAA Fisheries Biological Opinion for salmon and steelhead, providing spill for fish, augmenting flows for fish migration and temperature control, and operating the juvenile fish transportation system. We provide for multiple uses of the system, such as flood control, power generation, navigation, irrigation and other uses while doing what we can to improve fish passage through the system of dams and reservoirs. We are working together with the region to do what we can at the dams and to improve habitat conditions in the river, tributaries and the estuary and find better ways to manage hatcheries and harvest.
Myth: Numbers of salmon have been dramatically declining since the dams on the lower Snake River were built. Over this century, Columbia and Snake River salmon runs have declined 90 percent.
Fact: In-river survival of Snake River juvenile salmon today is comparable to what it was in the late 1960s when there were only four dams in the lower Columbia and Snake River system. Since the dams were first built, numerous improvements at the dams for fish passage and water quality have dramatically increased fish survival. For the past three years, there have been record salmon runs on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers – with the dams in place. The major decline in Columbia and Snake River salmon and steelhead runs occurred prior to the construction of the first Corps main stem dam – Bonneville Dam near Cascade Locks. For comparison, in 1938 it estimated that 1.67 million salmon and steelhead returned to the mouth of the Columbia River. In 2000, an estimated 1.69 million salmon and steelhead returned to the mouth of the Columbia River.
Myth: More than 90 percent of juvenile fish are killed by dams as they travel downriver. The survival rates for adults traveling upriver are also low.
Fact: The four lower Snake River dams have some of most effective fish passage built into Pacific Northwest dams. Average survival past the dams for ocean bound juveniles is more than 95 percent per dam. For adults, it is more than 98 percent for the entire system.
Myth: The juvenile fish transportation by barge and truck is a failed program.
Fact: NOAA Fisheries studies have shown that transported wild juvenile salmon and steelhead return as adults at a higher rate (around 20 to 80 percent for chinook and steelhead, respectively) than in-river migrating fish. Also, in a low water year, such as 2001, when there is no spill to pass fish through the lower Snake River Dams – transporting the juvenile fish by barges and trucks is preferable to turbine passage and results in enhanced survival.
Myth: The four lower Snake River dams are costly to operate. The navigation locks are subsidized and there is no return on the investment.
Fact: The dams provided more than $500 million in annual revenue from power production during fiscal year 2003. The cost to operate and maintain the District’s dams and locks that year was $23.4 million. This includes all fish facilities and the juvenile fish transportation program. Intangible benefits include reduced air pollution from the use of renewable energy.
Myth: It is cheaper to breach the four lower Snake River dams than it is to continue to operate them.
Fact: It is estimated that it would cost more than $1 billion to implement dam breaching and there would be a loss of benefits from power, transportation and navigation, estimated at more than $500 million annually.
Myth: Dredging is bad for fish.
Fact: Dredging and disposal of dredged material may have minor, short-term, negative impacts to aquatic life in the dredging and disposal area during the activity period. With regard to endangered species, the Corps consults with NOAA Fisheries to ensure their operations and maintenance activities will not jeopardize the salmon species. However, the Corps uses the most fish-friendly dredging equipment possible, plans dredging at a time of year when the fewest fish are expected to be in the dredging areas, and implements strict monitoring conditions for turbidity and water chemistry parameters to reduce possible impacts. Prior to dredging any areas that might be used by salmon as spawning areas (i.e. the downstream navigation lock approaches), the Corps conducts surveys to determine if any redds (nests that salmon lay eggs in) are in the area. The Corps does these surveys even though studies have indicated that most of the areas to be dredged is not suitable for salmon spawning. In addition, the Corps plans to use most of the dredged material for beneficial uses, including the improvement of fish habitat.
For more information, contact the
Walla Walla District Public Affairs Office:
201 N. Third Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362
This newsletter has only been around for two or three salmon life cycles, but it has been on scene long enough to track the emergence of salmon recovery science from the Dark Ages of speculation when seven data points (and two of them highly questionable) on fish survival were used to “prove” the flow/survival relationship that has been used to justify the expensive flow and spill regimes in the Columbia River.
It’s been a rough ride since then, but the revolution in PIT tag technology shows fish survival past big dams is much higher than the mixed bag of “experts” [PATH] and their hand-picked 1998 “weight of evidence” panel had ever thought. The old power centers are slowly being eroded by painstaking research and open dialog.
But state, tribal, and some federal fish agencies have had to be dragged kicking and streaming into the 21st Century. Some of them still don’t believe what other federal scientists have come up with so far–that any flow/survival relationship for spring chinook is weak and inconsistent at best, while ocean-entry timing of juveniles seems to be a huge factor in their survival to adulthood. River temperatures have also been found to play a huge factor in fish survival, especially for fall chinook, at least for the ones who migrate the same year they hatch.
That “weight of evidence” panel from the late 1990s had even denigrated the notion that ocean conditions could make much of a difference in fish survival. But when plankton productivity doubled in cool ocean waters after 1999, salmon numbers climbed fast, leaving a group of astounded fish managers frantically re-tooling their messages.
However, as I said in a 2000 editorial celebrating our 100th issue , “It’s the ocean, stupid,” but “suggesting that the ocean is both culprit and savior doesn’t do much at budget time for preserving a network of hatcheries and harvest managers who are ultimately at the mercy of Mother Nature. It’s not fish that folks are trying to preserve here, it’s turf.”
But some of the old guard, supported by even older judges, and funding from large charitable organizations who want to keep the ESA on the front page, still propagate the notion that a lot more money might fix this mess, despite the fact that the Corps of Engineers has about reached its limit of how to modify dams and their operations to benefit fish. After the money is spent, it will still take another 50 years to figure out what kind of habitat restoration and other actions might really work. And that’s assuming scientists can monitor these changes successfully. Some of them have even learned that many of these streams need more nutrients than the kind that comes from decaying dollar bills.
Unfortunately, some of the individuals who led the region down the garden PATH are now playing principle roles in the huge effort to keep track of these changes, and they are up to some of their old shenanigans, like trying to put the scientifically fraudulent upriver-downriver survival comparisons in their new bag of tricks.
Just last week, a federal judge told government agencies they’ll have to spend a lot more money on fish before he will bless their next biological opinion. Somebody should tell him what scientists have been finding out in other watersheds in the Northwest–that little salmon die a lot during their migration, and that affordable habitat restoration is likely to have modest benefits. They are also finding out that in Puget Sound’s dam-free, and relatively short Snohomish River, only about 3 percent of the migrating fall chinook smolts even make it to the salt water. And if by chance, all the planets, sunspots, spillways, drought, upwelling, fish barges, pikeminnow, smallmouth bass, cormorants, terns, hake, mackerel, sea lions, fish ladders and harvesters give migrating smolts a bit of a break, maybe one, two or three out of a hundred will make it back alive. And we call that success.
The new cadre of experts taking over salmon recovery should be forced to read an old recipe for salmon recovery written by the late Don Bevan and his team, that was later dismissed by federal agencies. It was a monument to common sense and clear thinking.
Now the region is on a salmon recovery rampage, led by a group of theorists who think they can determine whether these fish will be around a hundred years from now. Their veneer of mathematics disguises a simple assumption–if the fish numbers in stream X are trending upward now, chances are they will be going up a hundred years from now. But they are setting the recovery bar so high most of these stocks will likely never reach it. However, they will certainly preserve an industry dedicated more to its own survival than that of the fish.
What follows is a sampling of headlines from both the earliest and later issues of this publication to show how much the landscape has really changed despite the steady drone of lawyers and advocates of one sort and another maintaining a steady assault in the popular press, which never seems to have the time to look behind the curtain. -B. R.
These days, it is difficult to take seriously the doomsayers who claim that salmon are sliding to extinction. For the fourth consecutive year, salmon and steelhead returned to the Columbia and Snake Rivers in record numbers, resulting in longer fishing seasons and bigger harvests for commercial and sport fishers throughout the Northwest. While there is work still to be done for fish in the region, clearly the massive citizen effort over time is making a difference.
While the runs look healthier with each passing year, some would have the region believe that long term salmon recovery can only be achieved by removing dams on the Snake River. They claim that dam breaching is the silver bullet that will guarantee recovery and prosperity for all. But the science says otherwise about the results of such a drastic action for fish, and the economics of this silver bullet approach simply don’t pencil out.
Numerous studies have raised concerns about the effect of dam breaching on migrating salmon and steelhead. A US Army Corps of Engineers feasibility study indicated that dam breaching would result in the release of 75 million cubic yards of silt that has built up behind the dams, increasing exposure to toxins and creating murky waters not suitable for fish. A study published in the journal Science in 2000 showed that dam removal would be ineffective at alleviating risks to the fish. And, in each year since 2000, counts of adult chinook salmon passing Ice Harbor Dam (the first dam on the Snake River adults reach on their journey back upstream) were more than double what they were in the first year records were kept at the dam, 1964. Virtually all stocks of fish in the Columbia and Snake River basin have enjoyed similar – or better – returns in recent years. And these fish are drifting to extinction?
So the effect of dam removal on fish is far from certain, and may even hurt them. But the impact of such an action to the region’s economy and livelihood is certain, and severe. Dam removal advocates would have you think it is a relatively simple process to uproot an economy built up over decades. The truth is that the inland barge system supports almost $15 billion in international trade. The Columbia River, fed by the Snake, is one of the most important export gateways in the United States, ranking number one in the US for wheat and barley, number two in the US for corn, and number one on the West Coast for mineral bulks, forest products and paper products. It accounts for over 40,000 jobs in the Portland area alone, not to mention the thousands of workers, families and businesses that depend on the river in communities throughout the inland Northwest. Indeed, it is the family farms – the mom and pop businesses – that would suffer most if these dams were thoughtlessly removed.
Our environment would also pay. Four million tons of commodities currently barged on the river would be shifted suddenly to other modes of transportation with five to nine times the harmful emissions. Increased truck transportation would put an additional 4.2 million tons of pollutants into our air each year, according to the Corps’ feasibility study. And the energy generation lost if the dams were removed – enough to light a city the size of Seattle – would have to be replaced at a higher cost to ratepayers, and most likely by fossil fuels.
Breaching dams is not the answer. This is not a matter of fish versus the economy. Destroying dams would be extreme and risky to both.
Glenn Vanselow, Executive Director
Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA)
Headquartered in Portland, PNWA represents agriculture, forest products, navigation and electric utility interests in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Northern California.
Pacific Northwest Waterways Association
1500 NE Irving St., Suite 540
Portland, OR 97232