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SOURCE: Seattle Times

DATE: February 27, 2020

SNIP: Years and millions of dollars in the making, a draft federal report on hydroelectric dam operations in the Columbia Basin will not settle the decades long fight over saving imperiled salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Federal agencies found that taking out the dams would “provide a long-term benefit to species that spawn or rear in the mainstem Snake River habitats,” but also would have adverse impacts, including increased power costs, a rise in greenhouse gases and reduced reliability of the electric grid.

The report rejects the idea of removing the dams to save endangered or threatened salmon. The removal of the dams has been a rallying cry for advocates of salmon and the endangered southern resident orcas, which rely on Columbia and Snake chinook to survive. But supporters of the dams praised the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) as an important affirmation of their value in a region increasingly placing a premium on renewable electricity.

Once the report becomes final, it could face scrutiny in U.S. District Court from salmon advocates who say that the removal of the four Lower Snake dams is a key step in reviving salmon populations and boosting the survival prospects for the endangered southern resident orcas that feed on chinook. A warming climate has made both ocean conditions and the freshwater river environment tougher for the 13 species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The four Lower Snake River dams have long been obstacles to salmon that return to spawn in streams and rivers — and to their offspring, which seek to make a long freshwater migration to the sea.

The four Lower Snake dams were the last built in the federal Columbia hydropower system. Completed in the 1970s, they together provide about 5% of the region’s electricity, enough to power a city about the size of Seattle.

Managing the surge of wind and solar power on the grid today relies, in part, on hydropower dams like the ones on the Columbia and Snake rivers to quickly balance delivery of energy through the system as demand fluctuates. That buffering ability is expected to become more valuable in the years ahead as the Pacific Northwest shifts to a greater reliance on renewable power as coal plants are retired.