Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Dam Issue

The Mountaineers has a history, over a decade old, of supporting removal of the 4 Lower Snake River Dams for the purpose of restoring and protecting wild salmon runs.

This, itself, has been an issue for nearly 2 decades, and fell dormant under the Bush administration. Hopes rose again last January and recent judicial decisions (see Ed Henderson's piece in the April magazine, page 4), while not specifically supporting Dam removal, have certainly pointed the finger at the Feds, and specifically the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) to get their act together to protect the fish.

I suspect nearly all Mountaineer Members are perfectly aware of the historical and cultural importance of the Columbia-Snake river basin salmon runs, which once were the greatest in the world, and logically would support any efforts to help the Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection of salmon in the Snake/Columbia.

The trouble is, questions are being raised, under the spectre of Global Warming, and while no one is "against" protecting the salmon, one could rightfully wonder what impact dam removal would have on the twin spires of CO2: energy and transportation.

Investigating the impacts of damn removal involves immersion into a morass of bureaucratic alphabet soup, the details of which I will spare you here. What matters, as usual, are numbers But first, history, courtesy of Ed:

"The dams were originally built, in the 60's & 70"s, to supply power to DOE/DOD at Hanford to make nuclear weapons. The local booster group "Inland Empire" in Eastern Washington wanted them for barge transportation. RR's already existed there, but they weren't government subsitdized. Only one dam, Ice Harbor, the lowest down the river, provides irrigation for some 35,000+/- acres. In the scheme of things that ain't much.
The Mountaineers and many other group's objections to the dams are based on saving salmon. Global warming/climate change didn't enter into the conversation over ten years ago. Advocacy groups such as NW Energy and SOS Believe that the power lost can and should be replaced by conservation and renewables.

The 4 dams are rated at a maximum output of 3,000-3,7000 megawatts, which is a phantom number because they are really only capable of producing 1250-1400 MW, because they are "run of the river" dams with little or no storage capacity in their reservoirs, which also means maximum power potential is during the spring, when electricity demand is low.

(Its worth pointing out that the 1250-1400 MW the dams can provide is about that which the state's only coal-fired power plant, in Centralia provides, at the cost of 16% of the entire states CO2 emissions. This isn't to suggest the lost potential from the dams is necessarily going to be made up by coal, its just meant to offer perspective.)

Another thing the dams provide is a deep water port in Lewiston, and barge traffic down river to Portland is made up of 85% agricultural products, primarily wheat and barley (for export, or course)., The idea would be to replace this with rail traffic (all subsidized, of course) but the obvious concern is what impact this all might have on increasing the CO2-emmissions inefficient truck traffic factor.

Getting back to the Power issue, It's worth pointing out that the area, primarily the Columbia Gorge, is ripe for wind power. The BPA has a nice brochure on wind power, and there is certainly the potential to make up for the 4 Dams.

these are from the BPA, so take them for what they are worth!
BPA factsheet (pdf)
Federal Columbia River Power System brochure

Navigational Concerns paper from UW (no info on CO2 impacts)

1 comment:

Redbird said...

Jake, you should check out the report, "Bright Future", (see the site published this spring by the NW Energy Coalition. The dams need to come down now more than ever, and this new report shows how we can replace the energy currently produced by the 4 lower Snake dams, retire coal-fired power plants and meet all new load growth in the NW by 2050 through a combination of conservation, energy efficiency standards and increased truly clean renewable energy production, such as wind and solar. Dam removal proponents very much want a solution to the salmon crisis that will also provide enhanced rail transit for eastern Washington farmers so they can still get their product to market. This is key to keeping the region whole. As far as the global warming argument, a warming climate is all the more reason to provide wild salmon with the best habitat and free-flowing rivers that will give them the best chance for survival. There is another report at the lightintheriver site that tackles this issue in depth. In the case of the 4 lower Snake dams, 4 highly endangered populations of salmon must migrate through a total of 8 dams in order to get from their spawning grounds to the ocean. And the 4 lower Snake dams block off over 5,000 miles of intact cold freshwater creeks and streams at higher elevations -- prime habitat for salmon. We need to move beyond the failure of the Bush administration and put dam removal back on the table, as a federal judge has repeatedly asked. The Obama administration has an opportunity to convene a solutions table: a forum where the key stakeholders -- wheat farmers, fishermen, energy experts, Tribes, conservationists -- can all come together and craft an effective solution that will adhere to science and the law, especially the Endangered Species Act. Both of these things are important values of the Obama administration.