Guest Opinions

Northwest’s Snake River dams remain crucial

A fish ladder for salmon is in the foreground at Lower Monumental Dam on the Snake River in Washington.
A fish ladder for salmon is in the foreground at Lower Monumental Dam on the Snake River in Washington. Tri-City Herald file

In his article (“A changing electrical grid may make Snake River dams expendable — and help save salmon,” Aug. 4), Rocky Barker relates an incredibly simplistic argument that we don’t need the lower Snake River dams largely because the federal hydropower system has a power surplus at certain times of the year.

But this occasional surplus, to which the four Snake dams contribute, isn’t an argument for removing them. It’s a reason to preserve them. As experts know, a power system without some surplus is one that goes dark frequently. Without it, our regional system could not instantly meet spikes in energy demand. Just recently we saw the critical importance of a surplus, when energy demand soared past normal levels across the Northwest along with 100-degree temperatures.

Barker quotes anti-dam activists who say dam removal would have no impact on the Northwest power system. The facts don’t bear out their claims. Without the flexibility and reliability that the Snake dams supply — and which intermittent renewables like wind and solar cannot yet provide — Idaho and the Northwest would be vulnerable to rolling brownouts or even blackouts in times of peak demand. Like last week, or last winter’s stretch of extremely cold weather.

Despite the Statesman’s yearslong campaign for dam removal, ordinary Idahoans aren’t convinced. They continue to support the dual goals of salmon restoration and preserving the federal hydropower dams that supply nearly 60 percent of the energy produced in the Northwest — and 90 percent of the region’s carbon-free renewable energy.

We know this because in April, Northwest RiverPartners commissioned a poll of residents in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and western Montana. We hired DHM Research, a long-established, nonpartisan and independent polling firm. They ensured the questions were fair and unbiased no matter whose viewpoint the answers might support.

Four out of five Idahoans (84 percent) agreed with this statement: It is critical to the Northwest for dams and salmon to coexist.

On the topic of the Snake dams, the best arguments made by dam removal advocates were laid out alongside the best arguments for keeping the dams. A clear majority, 55 percent of Idaho respondents, agreed that removing the dams is an extreme solution that could do more harm than good.

And, more than 60 percent of Idaho respondents agreed with this statement: The Snake River dams will remain crucial for the Pacific Northwest for the foreseeable future. While solar and wind power may grow, hydropower is by far the most practical renewable energy source we have.

Regular Idahoans seem to understand a lot more than anti-dam activists (and the Statesman) give them credit for: the need for a balanced approach to helping salmon — without ripping out integral pieces of the hydropower system that powers the Northwest’s economy, keeps our skies among the cleanest in the nation, and provides myriad benefits including flood control, irrigation, navigation and recreation.

Terry Flores is executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, an alliance of farmers, utilities, ports and businesses in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana.