Why breach the 4 Lower Snake River Dams?
The Southern Resident Killer Whales are on the verge of extinction. These orcas only eat fish, mostly salmon, and specifically Chinook —this biggest and fattiest salmon consists of 80% of their diet— but the salmon are also disappearing.
In the Pacific Northwest, 40% of Chinook runs are locally extinct, and a large portion of the remaining are threatened or endangered, including in the Columbia and its largest tributary: the Snake River, which continues to decline. In 2019, salmon returns in the Columbia Basin and Snake River were one of the lowest on record.
We’re coming to a tipping point, and it’s terrifying. We’re on the verge of not only losing two species but an entire ecosystem dependent on salmon.
This brings us to the four lower Snake River dams (Ice Harbor Lock and Dam, Lower Monumental Dam, Little Goose Dam, and Lower Granite Dam). These four dams kill approximately 8 million smolts (juvenile salmon) each year and prevent adult salmon from spawning (reproducing).
We have tried band-aid solutions in vain such as increasing spill (holes in the dams for the salmon to pass), increasing hatchery fish, and more bypass and habitat restoration, as well as closing down fisheries in the US waters.
But the southern resident killer whales keep starving to death and Chinook runs are in decline. Breaching the four lower Snake River dams will bring millions of salmon back. It will take approximately 6 months to breach the first two dams and have a free flowing river for salmon (not including channelization work, agricultural work, etc.) Once breached, it’ll take 14 to 18 months for adult salmon to be in the Pacific Coast. In parallel, it takes 3 to 10 years for salmon with hatcheries.
These four dams are losing money each year, Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has to borrow $1.6 billion from the federal government (taxpayers’ money) over the next 2 years just to maintain the four lower Snake River dams. It would only cost $340 million to breach all four dams. If we breach the four lower Snake River dams this year, Eastern Washington would gain $200-300 million in economic benefits every year and an average of 3,000 jobs annually would be created.
The debate regarding the potential breaching of these four dams has been going on for over two decades, but the science is there proving it will be beneficial both environmentally and economically to start breaching these dams. We can’t waste another year debating over this, and that’s why we’re marching.
About the march
A collective of activists are organizing the March 4 The Dams, a 23-day trek from Portland to the Ice Harbor Lock and Dam to put global pressure on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration and Governor Inslee to start breaching the four lower Snake River dams in 2020.
The march will begin with a peaceful demonstration at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration headquarters in Portland and will end with another demonstration at the Ice Harbor Lock and Dam on March 22nd. Come walk with us for however long works for you, and see the map above to join whenever and wherever.
Our goal is for thousands of people to join the march, and get global attention on these dams and put global pressure on the US Army Corps of Engineers, BPA, and Governor Jay Inslee so they finally breach the four lower Snake River dams in 2020.
In February 2020, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will release a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), proposing different alternatives for salmon mitigation. One of those alternatives will be breaching the four lower Snake River dams. The public will be given a 45-day period from mid-February to the end of March to send their public comments and weigh in on which alternative needs to be taken. During the march, we will urge everyone around the world to send in their public comments.
March 4 The Dams will be the biggest movement to breach the four lower Snake River dams, and with that, we know we can get millions of comments flooding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers demanding they breach the four lower Snake River dams this year.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How will breaching four lower Snake River dams (4LSRD), far inland, help save orcas in the ocean?
- The critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales eat salmon, primarily Chinook salmon (King salmon). Wild salmon populations continue to decline, with 22 of the historic 37 Chinook salmon populations remaining at only 10% of their historic numbers. Without enough salmon to eat, the endangered orcas are now literally starving to death. (EPA, https://www.epa.gov/salish-sea/chinook-salmon)
- The 4LSRD obstruct 140 miles of what was once free-flowing river, blocking access to critical spawning grounds for salmon. This massive obstruction kills an estimated 8 million salmon every year, or, over 50% of migrating juvenile salmon. The bottom line: Juvenile to adult salmon ratios, from the Snake River, are not meeting the criteria for species survival.
- Breaching the 4LSRD will dramatically increase the likelihood for salmon survival, allowing for clear fish passage during salmon migration to and from the ocean. If the dams remain in place, wild salmon could disappear, and no amount of future recovery efforts or money will bring them back.
Besides saving orcas, why is protecting wild salmon populations so important?
- Salmon are a keystone species, known as the “life-blood” of the Pacific Northwest (PNW), because they contribute so significantly to ecosystem health. Salmon are born in rivers and migrate to the ocean, where they live and then eventually return to spawn back up their native rivers, acting as enormous “nutrient pumps”. From grizzly bears to orcas, at least 137 different species depend on the marine-rich nutrients that wild salmon provide. Salmon also fuel a $3 billion industry, and millions of people in the PNW rely on salmon as a key source of protein.
- Wild salmon populations are in serious decline, and need to be protected with bold actions now, before it’s too late. In the Snake River system, the Smolt-to-Adult Ratios (a metric used to determine recovery of a species) have been nearly 0 for the past 3 years and have never reached their required 4% in the past 20 years.
- All four Snake River salmon and steelhead runs were listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA by 1997. Southern Resident Orcas officially became endangered in 2005.
Why these four dams, specifically?
- There are a number of different dams along the Snake and Columbia Rivers, which inhibit salmon passage. The four lower Snake River dams hinder the salmon that spawn in the best habitat in the Northwest — in Central Idaho.
- Scientists, and numerous, extensive multi-million dollar studies, have determined that the 4LSRD are the most significant factor preventing Snake River salmon recovery. The cumulative effect of eight dams on the lower Columbia and Snake River is too much for salmon survival.
- A new draft of an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) on the dams is available now, for public comment (see intructions below), and will be for the next 45 days. It is the result of $750,000 USD, allocated by the Orca Task Force and the Columbia River Systems Operations Process (CRSO) to study breaching. This report does not guarantee breaching.
- 25 years have been wasted on studies and failed attempts to mitigate the damage inflicted by these four dams. Instead, strong pressure on the Corps, Bonneville Power Authority, and the Northwest delegation, is urgently needed now before it is too late.
- The four Lower Snake River Dams are man-made structures with a finite lifetime. They are part of the problematic aging U.S. infrastructure that requires more money for maintenance every year. These dams will be breached in the future due to the economics, but they are economically unsustainable now. It’s simply a matter of time before the federal agencies admit it. So, the question is will salmon and Southern Resident Orcas still be around when the dams come down, or will it be too late?
Who will breach the 4LSRD? And how?
- The Army Corps of Engineers (ACE)
- The ACE needs no new authorities to place the LSRDs into a “non-operational” status while normative river flows are reestablished by removing the dams’ earthen portions.
- The necessary procedure was developed and is outlined in the 2002 EIS from the ACE.
- Breaching can be financed through existing debt reduction and credits mechanisms as a fish mitigation action by Bonneville Power Administration.
- Breaching can be accomplished in a matter of months (not years).
If breaching makes so much sense, why haven’t they been breached yet?
- Bonneville Power Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) don’t want to take responsibility.
- Furthermore, lack of political leadership to even ask the ACE to breach. As well as a misguided belief by the public and agencies that further studies and a new Environmental Impact Statement will solve the problem.
- Lastly, after all of the money spent over the past 20 years to upgrade turbines and try to improve fish-passage, the agencies involved would have to admit to billions in stranded costs.
What's the economic case?
- The LSRDs have a combined BCR of 0.15:1. This means the LSRDs are returning only 15¢ for every $1 invested; we are losing $0.85 for every dollar we spend. This pales to projections that a free-flowing Lower Snake River could return $4-$19 for every $1 invested depending on what was done with the free-flowing river post-breaching. This would be a BCR of 4:1 or 19:1, respectively. the Corps has the fiduciary responsibility to place the LSRDs into a non-operational status, based on the BCR. (Source: damsense.org)
- Power produced by the dams and transportation benefits they provide pale in comparison with the billions spent by rate payers and taxpayers to maintain a broken status quo.
- The rapidly rising costs of maintaining the lower Snake River system are presenting significant challenges to the federal agencies that manage the dams. A growing set of cost indicators suggest the government can’t continue propping up the system.
Don't these dams produce power that we need?
- The dams produce hydro-power at a fraction of their capacity, and affordable replacement options are already in place, or readily available.
- There’s an 18% surplus of power in Washington, the LSRD produce less than 3% of the surplus. If the dams are breached, the lights won’t go out. All we’d be giving up is 3% of a surplus.
- The Northwest Power Planning Council said, in their power plan, they concluded that you could take out all the coal power plants and breach the 4LSRD and you’d still have a surplus. They also said that any increased demand, could be handled easily by energy conservation.
- The replacement power for the dams could be collected through summer, during the peaking summer power requirement times. Pricing it out with solar and wind.
Will breach the dams increase the risk of the Snake River flooding agriculture and homes in the area?
- The dams do not provide flood protection or any meaningful amount of irrigation. There is an estimated 37,000 acres of industrial farmland irrigated by the reservoir behind one dam, Ice Harbor.
- Congress did not authorize flood control as a purpose and the dams were not designed for it. They are “run of the river” dams, meaning they were not built to store water. Due to sediment build up, Lower Granite Dam actually creates a flood risk to Lewiston, Idaho.
Will breaching the dams affect the shipping of goods inland to people?
- Freight transportation on the lower Snake is so low that the waterway falls into the US Army Corps of Engineers’ category of a river of “Negligible Use”.
- The Ice Harbor Dam is the lowermost of the four lower Snake River dams and therefore offers the best indication of the entire waterway’s economic viability. Shipping statistics from there indicate water-born commerce peaked on the lower Snake in 1995 and has been on a long, steady decline ever since. Data source: Walla Walla District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (nww.usace.army.mil).
- Increased rail fuel efficiency and the growing use of unit trains in Montana, Idaho and Washington have contributed to a shift from truck-barge to truck-rail for the shipment of grain to Pacific Northwest ports.
What about fish ladders and spillover strategies to help salmon pass the dams?
- All of the current mitigation strategies, fish ladders and spillover, have been ineffective at aiding the annual salmon migration. In spite of the billions of dollars spent by Bonneville Power Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers to recover salmon, and salmon passage improvements, the number of fish returning to spawn above Lower Granite Dam continues to decline.
- In the original Environmental Impact Statement developed by the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE.) in 2002, which includes an analysis of alternatives for improving salmon passage, dam breaching was identified as providing the highest probability of salmon survival and recovery. The ACE. took 7 years to complete this report at a cost of $33 million. The ACE’s own conclusion: dam breaching is the best way to recover Snake River salmon, a conclusion that remains valid today.
How can you help?
A major goal of the March For The Dams is get people everywhere to submit a public comment to the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) for the 4LSRD to be breached in 2020. This will put pressure on the ACE, a federal organization that has the fiduciary and environmental responsibility, as well as capability, to breach the dams.
- Go to https://comments.crso.info/.
- Copy and paste the suggested comment below.
- Check the boxes for the following areas for concern: Alternatives, Dams, EIS/NEPA, Fish and Wildlife.
- For location, select a city in Washington or Oregon.
- Fill out your information and submit! That’s it!
The Southern Resident killer whales and Snake River salmon and steelhead will not survive this EIS study process. As a first step, the federal agencies can and need to begin breaching the four lower Snake River dams this year. As a parallel step, the agencies can use this new EIS process to undertake future actions. The federal agencies can no longer afford to drag the process out with another EIS that will take years while the salmon and orca go extinct. We have tried expensive bypass systems and more spill, and still, 2019 was another year of costly efforts to recover Snake River salmon with no results. Federal agencies need to begin the breaching of the Snake River dams this year.
Tell everyone you know
Spread the walk
Call & write
to Bonneville Power Administration and Governor Jay Inslee:
Governor Jay Inslee
Comment by mail:
Governor Jay Inslee
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002
Comment by phone:
Bonneville Power Administration
Comment by mail:
BPA, Communications – DK-7,
P.O. Box 14428,
Comment by phone:
Follow the link below:
Our sponsor PNW Protectors is a 501c3 organization and they will be accepting donations on our behalf. Each donation will fund lodging, food, tents for people who may not have them, and gas for two cars that will surround the group of marchers for safety reasons.
5,500$ raised of 10,000$ USD.
Where can I sleep during the march
In the map above, you will find the different lodging options for each night. You will see a house icon for motels, and a tent for camping spots. If you are joining us for the portion of the march where only camping is available, bring a tent! There will be a bus to transport your camping gear, and we can give you a ride at the end of the day to your motel/camping spot.
Can I join the march after it's already begun?
Yes! In the map above, you will see our start point and end point for each day so it’s easy for you to join us whenever, and wherever.