The Boards of Commissioners for Mason County PUD No. 1 and No. 3 passed resolutions this week to protect the four Lower Snake River Dams from destruction.
The four dams are Ice Harbor, Little Goose, Lower Granite, and Lower Monumental. They are on the Snake River in the southeast corner of Washington state and provide nearly 11 percent of the federally generated hydro power in the Pacific Northwest.
The Mason County PUDs are among 15 public utilities in Washington state that have adopted resolutions supporting the lower Snake River dams. Each utility gets most of its electricity from 31 federal dams in the Columbia River Basin.
In a news release, Mason PUD 3 commissioners said that the PUD’s electricity is 98% carbon-free, thanks in part to the four dams. They noted that removal of the dams’ renewable energy from the regional power mix would impede the utility’s ability to meet the requirements of Washington state’s new 100% clean energy law.
“Power from wind and solar is becoming a bigger part of the Pacific Northwest’s energy mix,” said Annette Creekpaum, PUD 3 manager. “When the wind doesn’t blow, or the sun doesn’t shine, hydropower dams, unlike other power plants, can quickly adjust their output to balance energy needs in the region, while still providing carbon-free electricity.”
Michael Simon, a Federal District Court Judge in Portland, ordered dam operators to consider the removal of four lower Snake River dams. His ruling came as regional managers are working on a new plan to balance fish habitat, power production, irrigation, flood control, navigation, and recreation in the Columbia River Basin.
“Customers of public power utilities in the Pacific Northwest have spent nearly $17 billion since 1978 on dam modifications,” said Creekpaum. “The expenditures include habitat restoration, hatcheries, and increased spilling of water (bypassing generation) to help in salmon survival.”
Investments appear to be paying off. More than 96% of young salmon now survive passage at each dam on their migration downstream. Poor ocean conditions have somewhat reduced current fish counts. However, as recent as 2014, there were more Chinook, Sockeye, and Coho salmon swimming upstream from Bonneville Dam than any year since the dam was built in 1938.
Other activities threatened by dam removal include:
- Irrigation for over 7 million acres of farmland, producing $8 billion in agricultural income (think wheat, apples, potatoes, cherries, Walla Walla sweet onions, and other fresh produce);
- Barge shipping for over 3.5 million tons of cargo annually. To carry the same amount of cargo would require over 35,140 rail cars or 135,000 semi-trucks;
- Flood control, protecting the lives and property of thousands of people;
- Recreation: fishing, boating, sailboarding, etc.