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Lower Snake dam removal makes sense

Copyright Moscow-Pullman Daily News May 8, 2015

According to the Moscow-Pullman Daily News ($50 million flume at Lower Granite, Tuesday April 21, 2015) the Army Corps of Engineers recently completed Phase I of a two-part project to upgrade Lower Granite Dam’s fish bypass system for salmon and steelhead smolts. Phase I costs $50-million. The remaining costs for the project were not mentioned in the article.

Since the 2002 Lower Snake River Juvenile Salmon Migration Feasibility Study, the Walla Walla District of the Army Corps of Engineers has spent approximately $600-million of American taxpayer money for System Improvements on the lower four Snake River dams. Despite this investment, the official Fish Passage Center estimates that over the past decade only 52% of wild Chinook smolts and only 46% of wild steelhead smolts survive the hydropower system on the lower Snake and Columbia River. Thus, approximately one out of every two wild fish is killed while migrating to the ocean.

The true measure of successful recovery is, of course, the smolt-to-adult return ratio, which is known as SAR. According to the best available science, recovery of wild Chinook and wild steelhead requires a minimum of 2%-6% SAR. Over the past fifteen years, the SAR for wild Chinook has averaged .59%. Yes, less than 1%. It’s abundantly clear that the System Improvements are, therefore, a failure and a huge drain on the American taxpayer pocketbook, as well.

Retired Deputy District Engineer for the Walla Walla District-Army Corps Jim Waddell recently completed a comprehensive review of the agency’s 2002 feasibility study and concluded that the agency underestimated the annual costs for operating the four lower Snake dams by $160-million. If the dams were to stay in place for the next century, Mr. Waddell’s adjustment would equate to an average annual cost of $313-million.

The next major expenditure is the need to replace twenty-four turbines on the lower Snake dams. In 2014, the Corps contracted to replace three turbines at Ice Harbor for $97-million, or about $32-million each. Multiply that by another twenty-one turbines which need replacing over the next fifteen years, add 3% annual inflation, and total costs for replacing all the turbines is about $1-billion. If these dams stay in place for the length of the project (100-years), these turbines will also need to be replaced a second time.

Meanwhile, the Port of Lewiston just suspended all container shipping. This was predictable, as container barging from the port has declined 82% since 2000. One needs to ask, “Why did the port recently apply for and receive a $1.3-million federal grant to extend its container dock when the port’s own data suggested a steep decline?” Don’t forget the other 1.5-million in local property taxes and a few more million spent to dredge the channel to the port.

The Army Corps of Engineers’ Waterborne Commerce website further reveals that over the past twenty years, freight volume on the lower Snake River has declined 69%. Note that zero, if any, lumber or paper is barged any more. Rail and trucking is more efficient and dependable for industry. With the Port of Lewiston dead-in-the-water, that leaves privately owned Lewis-Clark Terminal as the only shipper from the Port of Lewiston. One needs to ask, “Why are taxpayers so greatly subsidizing a single private entity?”

The message is simple. The four lower Snake River dams are driving species to extinction, while the costs to maintain the dams are exorbitant and getting more expensive every year. It’s time to breach the lower four Snake River dams and bring wild salmon and steelhead home. Did I mention that it would save us millions of dollars every year, too?

Brett Haverstick is the Education & Outreach Director for Friends of the Clearwater.