HYDRO IS OUR POWER
Hydropower is a renewable energy resource created by the energy of falling water.
Gravity forces water to flow through specially equipped hydroelectric dams to produce carbon-free and inexpensive electricity that provides the Northwest with nearly 90% of its renewable energy. In 2020, the 31 Federal Columbia River Power System dams located around the Pacific Northwest generated 7,482 average annual megawatts. But when working at full capacity, the dams have the ability to generate up to 22,442 megawatts. That’s enough to power up to 10 Seattle-sized cities.
Because dams do not produce carbon emissions when generating electricity, the abundance of hydropower makes the region’s power system the cleanest in the United States and prevents 50 million metric tons of carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere.
The Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) comprises 31 hydroelectric projects in the Columbia River Basin, including the four Lower Snake River Dams (LSRD) which have fueled the region’s economic growth for more than 70 years.
The Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) own and operate the federal projects. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) markets the power generated by the projects and distributes it through its transmission system.
Together, these three agencies are referred to as the Action Agencies.
Click here to learn more about hydropower's many benefits!
PNW Hydro by the Numbers
HYDRO NEEDS YOUR HELP
At Inland Power, we urge everyone to support hydropower projects in the Pacific Northwest. Right now, the four lower Snake River dams dominate conversations at your co-op and across the hydropower industry. Some groups think the dams should be breached. We know that hydro keeps our area’s power carbon-free, affordable, and reliable. We especially believe in the importance of carbon-free hydro to fight climate change to protect salmon, the iconic fish of the Northwest. Inland Power is committed to being part of the solution for science-backed advocacy efforts in support of the lower Snake River dams and salmon, too.
Lower Snake River Dams
Why is there so much talk about the four lower Snake River Dams? We’re glad you asked! At Inland Power, we purchase our electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), and that power is generated by hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River basin.
The Snake River is the largest tributary of the Columbia River. The lower Snake River dams, commonly referred to as the LSRD, are four productive hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River, all located in Washington state. All four produce affordable, reliable, carbon-free power.
Recently, some groups have suggested removing the dams on the lower Snake to aid declining salmon populations. We love salmon as a symbol of all things wild and free, we respect their significance to Tribal communities in the Pacific Northwest and we support re-population efforts on their behalf. Unfortunately, though, removing the dams isn’t the silver bullet for salmon.
A changing planet is the biggest threat to salmon, especially warming ocean temperatures. Did you know that Snake River salmon spend about 80% of their lives in the ocean? They run from their birthplace in the Idaho mountains all the way out to the Pacific Ocean and back again in their quest to reproduce! Yes, they encounter dams along the way. But fish ladder technology and billions of dollars in fisheries research and support have allowed salmon to navigate the dams with success rates very similar to those of salmon in free-flowing rivers.
Unfortunately, many populations of salmon have declined sharply over the last 150 years along the entire Pacific coast of North America. Commercial overfishing and habitat loss reduced their numbers to near-extinction levels before the first federal dam on the Columbia River was completed in 1938. There is a lot of research about this iconic fish and the many environmental impacts on them. Links to resources, including peer-reviewed scientific research, are located at the bottom of this page.
The Bottom Line
Warming, acidifying ocean temperatures pose the greatest threat of extinction to salmon.
Hydroelectricity is a critical carbon-free resource to fighting climate change.
Billions of dollars have been invested in habitat restoration and dam improvements to protect salmon.
The latest fish passage technology at dams has helped Columbia and Snake River salmon survive at rates comparable to a free-flowing river.
Significant increases in returning adult salmon numbers have occurred since the dams were first constructed.
Salmon populations have been declining for the last 150 years.
Hydroelectric dams are an easy target, but rivers without dams are seeing the same salmon declines.
The latest science points to warming oceans and a shift in predator/prey relationships as the real driver in these declines.
Major upgrades to the lower Columbia and Snake river dams have led to a survival rate past each dam of 93% to 99%, depending on the fish species.
Dams help reduce carbon emissions and reservoirs keep river temperatures lower – both of which benefit salmon.
The proposed breaching of these four Snake River dams would eliminate a total generating capacity of 3,033 Megawatts of carbon-free, renewable energy. Source: Bonneville Power Administration
The Murray-Inslee Process
Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Washington Senator Patty Murray are currently examining what would happen if the four productive, carbon-free lower Snake River dams were breached. The Murray-Inslee Process is slated for October 2021-July 2022. Concerns include fighting the climate crisis and recovering healthy salmon populations for Tribal Nations.
In considering the Murray-Inslee Process, it’s critical to understand that in 2020 the federal government completed a $40 million, multi-year Columbia River System Operations Environmental Impact Statement (CRSO EIS) in consultation with states and Tribal entities. Over 59,000 public comments were also received. The EIS conclusion was that breaching the dams is not in the best interest of society from a climate, cost, and grid reliability perspective, especially given the highly uncertain benefits for salmon.
Governor Inslee hasn’t stated publicly if he believes that the dams should be removed. He has noted the extreme danger that the warming, acidifying ocean represents to salmon populations and has also stressed the need to fight climate change to reverse the warming ocean. These positions are strangely at odds with his willingness to examine breaching the dams. Helping salmon means committing to a carbon-free future to fight climate change. Hydropower is the backbone of a carbon-free future, and the lower Snake River dams are a big part of that future.
Inland Power urges its members to reach out to Governor Inslee and Senator Murray in support of the lower Snake River dams. firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also submit a form template by clicking the button below.
Your Co-op’s Position: Let’s Look at the Facts, Let’s Keep the Dams Intact
The lower Snake River dams should remain intact to protect Inland Power members’ access to affordable, reliable, carbon-free hydropower, and to prevent brownouts and blackouts in our region.
It is the job of utilities, including your co-op, to raise an alarm if grid reliability is threatened, particularly for our many members who rely solely on electricity for heat and do not have the luxury of a backup heat source.
These dams regularly produce around 1,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity, which is enough to power over half of eastern Washington. They also can briefly produce 3,400 MW of power in extreme situations to make up for deficiencies in solar and wind power generation.
The 2020 Columbia River System Operations Environmental Impact Statement (CRSO EIS) concluded that dam breaching is not in the best interest of our region from a cost, climate, or power reliability perspective — especially given the highly uncertain benefits to salmon. Inland supports peer-reviewed research as the deciding factor in this debate. Your co-op believes that we cannot ignore nor politicize the multi-year, multi-million-dollar study that was developed by scientists, engineers, and hydropower professionals across multiple tribal, state and federal agencies.
Your co-op supports the continued rehabilitation of salmon and especially continued research into how to best help salmon during the 80% of their lives that they spend in the warming, acidifying ocean. Your co-op also supports a carbon-free energy future for many reasons, including because it’s best for salmon.
Getting accurate answers to LSRD questions can be a challenge, especially given the many privately funded, nonscientific studies published by well-meaning groups that fail to fully capture the issues. Inland Power has gathered peer-reviewed research and more, which can be found below.
2020 CRSO EIS Process
– CRSO Final EIS Executive Summary
– NOAA 2020 CRS Biological Opinion
– Lower Snake River Dams Stakeholder Engagement Report
– CRSO DEIS Executive Summary
– CRSO Overview
– CRSO Documents
– Hydropower – Flexibility & Project Statistics
– Fish & Wildlife – Operations, Predation, & Habitat Improvements
– Fish & Wildlife – Survival and System Travel Time
– NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service – 2019 Biological Opinion
Northwest Hydroelectricity Info
– Bureau of Reclamation & USACE – 2019 State of the Infrastructure
– BPA – Snake Dams Fact Sheet 2016
– NRU & PPC – Lower Snake River Dams Fact Sheet
– Chelan PUD / National Hydro Association – Reinvigorating Hydropower
– KGW – Will there be enough electricity when coal plants shut down?
– NWPCC – BPA Electricity
– NWPCC – Power Supply
– Oregon Department of Energy – 2018 Biennial Energy Report
– Washington Grain Commission – 2018-2019 Wheat Facts
Regional Power Supply & Resource Adequacy
– E3 – Capacity Needs of the Pacific Northwest 2019-2030
– NWPCC – Pacific Northwest Power Supply Adequacy Assessment for 2024
– Western Interstate Energy Board & Energy Strategies – Western Flexibility Assessment
History of Salmon & Hydro
Investments in Salmon Recovery
– Salmon Lifecycle
– Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences – Estimates of Chinook Salmon Consumption by Marine Mammal Predators
– Kintama Research – Columbia River Spring-Summer Chinook Studies Visual
– Kintama Research – Rethinking Strategies for Increasing Salmon Survival: What Do the Data Say?
– Nature – Climate change threatens Chinook salmon throughout their life cycle
– NOAA Fisheries – Fish Size Affects Snake River Salmon Returns More than Route Through Dams
– PLOS Biology – Rethinking Dams: Pacific Salmon Recovery May Rest on Other Factors
– WDFW Washington State Fish Passage Map
– River of Money – Spending for fish and wildlife over time
– BPA – Fish and Wildlife Investments 2015
– NWPCC – 2018 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program Costs Report
– 2016 Comprehensive Evaluation of FCRPS Salmon Progress
– 2014-2018 Implementation Plan for the FCRPS Biological Opinion
– Corps of Engineers Info on Spillway Weirs
– Corps of Engineers – Cooling Water for Fish Passage with Snake River Dams
– WSDOT – Fish Passage Projects
Southern Resident Orcas
– EPA – Southern Resident Killer Whales
– NOAA Fisheries – Southern Resident Killer Whales and Snake River Dams
– NOAA Fisheries – Southern Resident Killer Whales and West Coast Chinook Salmon
– NOAA, NMFS, NWFSC – Exposure to a Mixture of Toxic Chemicals
– PLOS One – Seasonal diet of Southern Resident killer whales
– Port of Vancouver – Estimating the effects of noise from commercial vessels and whale watch boats on Southern Resident Killer Whales
Bonneville Power Administration
BPA and its partners operate the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS). Financed through the rates of northwest electric customers, BPA markets electricity, and works to protect and enhance environmental, fish and wildlife values while keeping electric infrastructure maintained and reliable.
Columbia River DART (Data Access in Real-Time)
Purpose is to provide accurate anadromous juvenile and adult fish counts at the Columbia and Snake River dams.
NW Power and Conservation Council
To ensure, with public participation, an affordable and reliable energy system while enhancing fish and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin. Was the original creator of, and every five years amends, the Federal Columbia River Power System’s Fish and Wildlife Program.
The Federal Caucus
Ten federal agencies working for endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin. Their website offers current and historic information on the work of the Caucus to recover ESA-Listed Columbia/Snake River Basin salmon and steelhead.
US Army Corps of Engineers
Seeks to ensure that USACE owned and operated dams do not present unacceptable risks to people, property, or the environment, with the emphasis on people. Northwest focus on flood risk management, dam safety, dredging for navigation, and river recreation.