Posted in Editorials   October 20, 2015

Carbon-free and other benefits of the hydro system

Benefits of hydropower
As noted in the Tri-City Herald article on October 19, 2015 (“Critics of Snake River dams say it’s time to remove them”), the issue of breaching the dams has been around for decades. It has never gained any traction beyond a handful of anti-dam groups.  Nor will it. 

Here’s why:

As General Manager of a local public utility with over 50,000 customers our job is to provide reliable, low cost and environmentally responsible electric energy to our customers.  Benton PUD’s power is 91% carbon free with 75% from hydro.  The Snake dams are critically important to achieving those goals. They help keep our lights on, significantly reduce our carbon footprint, power our businesses and economy, back up other renewables like wind and solar, support the Northwest’s power grid in times of energy emergencies, and put food on our tables and those around the world.  They literally are economic and environmental powerhouses.

Yet, the anti-dam forces would have you believe those incredible benefits don’t exist and the dams should be removed to help salmon. The truth is the dams are all equipped with fish ladders to ensure adults can access prime spawning habitat and each has state-of-the art technologies to ensure young salmon travel safely downstream. Survival levels for young salmon is astounding with 97% on average safely traversing each dam – akin to levels seen in river systems with no dams according to NOAA Fisheries.   

Fortunately, neither the public nor our legislative leaders buy the misinformation. According to an independent public opinion poll (just cite following below?) conducted by DHM Research, commissioned by Northwest RiverPartners, fully 70% of northwest residents recognize the value of the Snake dams and support them as opposed to only 10%  who think they should be removed (February 2015).  In fact, support FOR the dams grew 10 percent this year belying claims that there is “momentum” for their removal as claimed.

In truth, people care deeply about both salmon and dams with 77% stating the two must co-exist – and they are!  The overall trend in salmon abundance is way up since 2000 with a record setting return of 2.5 million adults set in 2015, the most since Bonneville dam was built in 1938.  This year also is seeing tremendous returns (except for sockeye which struggled with low river flows and high temperatures) especially fall chinook where another record is in sight.

The nay-sayers can and will concoct any number of storylines to support their cause.  But they really aren’t fooling anyone who takes the time to understand the tremendous value the Snake dams bring to the northwest:  an unmatched source of reliable and renewable energy that keeps our skies clean and fosters the region’s economy while ensuring our prized salmon have safe passage in their journey to the sea and back.   

By:  Chad Bartram, General Manager Benton PUD