A Vision for the Snake River

Snake River salmon are on the brink of extinction in large part due to four dams on the lower Snake in eastern Washington.  Adult salmon in the Snake must navigate eight federally owned dams on their way upstream to their spawning grounds (four on the mainstem Columbia and four on the lower Snake). Even more limiting, we lose staggering numbers of out-migrating juvenile salmon to predators and high-water temperatures in the stagnant, slackwater pools between dams. The loss of salmon has been devastating for the region’s Tribal Nations, which depend on healthy salmon runs for their culture, sustenance, and survival. At the same time, communities and economies have been built around the four lower Snake dams and reservoirs. Residents and businesses need affordable power. Orchards require irrigation and farmers need economical transport to ports downriver for their commodities.

We’re at a crossroads for both salmon and the region’s people, and it’s time to demand a renewed plan from elected officials that addresses the biological needs of fish, and the economic needs of communities, while honoring treaties and commitments with Tribal Nations.

American Rivers is committed to working with Tribal Nations, industry, and communities to achieve a lasting solution.

Why the Snake River Dams?

By 2060,80% of all coldwater habitat available in the lower 48 will be located in the Snake Basin. In a warming world, the Snake Basin is the last, best place for salmon in the lower 48 states.  But eight dams that lie in their way to and from the ocean are driving salmon and steelhead to extinction.

Tribal Nations, scientists, and conservation leaders have identified the lower four Snake River dams  for removal because the harm they cause to wild salmon and steelhead outweigh the benefits they provide.  Salmon in the Yakima and the John Day that navigate three or four dams on their way to and from the ocean are doing three to four times better than Snake River salmon that must navigate eight dams. Science shows us that salmon can handle four dams, but eight is just much to ask of these fish.

All four Snake River dams together generate around 900 average megawatts. In contrast, the Columbia River’s Grand Coulee Dam alone generates about 2,300 average megawatts. The lower four Snake River dams also provide irrigation and barge transportation, but those services can by replaced with more reliable, cost-effective alternatives.

When you weigh all the costs and benefits of the lower four Snake River dams, they just don’t pull their weight when measured against the harm they inflict on the region’s most iconic species and cultures. 

 Lower Snake River dam removal is no longer a question of if. It’s become a mandate of when, as evidenced by shifting political momentum on both the federal and state levels that recognize we cannot allow Snake River salmon and steelhead to go extinct. Responsibilities to Tribal Nations further underscore the need for change.Delaying action isn’t a plan. It’s just status-quo denial and disrespectful to both the fish and the region’s people.

Investing in energy, agriculture, and transportation

Given the inevitability of dam removal, it’s time to plan how we will replace the services of the four lower Snake dams.  It is critical that the hydropower, transportation, and irrigationservices of the dams are replaced before dam removal can begin.

With broad participation from stakeholders, we collectively must craft a vision for the Snake Basin that works for all parties. It’s been said before that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. A decision will soon be made, with a looming question: Who exactly will make that decision for the people of the Northwest? A judge or federal agency? Or local Nthe people who live here in the Northwest, with a vested interest in their communities?

At American Rivers, we are committed to doing the work to move the region forward. We have a strong track record of bridge building, helping forge complex agreements. We will work with tribes, utilities, irrigators, producers, shippers and all who are interested in ensuring a healthy river, to achieve abundant salmon, clean affordable energy, and thriving upriver communities to carry the region into the next century.   

The region’s congressional delegation and the Biden administration must act with urgency to invest in infrastructure so that the dams can be removed, setting the Northwest on a course to climate resilience, economic strength, abundant salmon, and cultural revitalization. 

Learn more about the Snake River opportunity