Between 1961 and 1975 the lower Snake River in eastern Washington state underwent a dramatic transformation when four dams were erected to create an inland seaport at Lewiston, Idaho. That transformation has proved costly for riverside communities and taxpayers who continue to subsidize the dams’ existence.
Power produced by the dams and transportation benefits they provide pale in comparison with the billions spent by rate payers and taxpayers to maintain a broken status quo.
The rapidly rising costs of maintaining the lower Snake River system are presenting significant challenges to the federal agencies that manage the dams. The cost of mitigation hatcheries for lost Snake River stocks is rising a rate of 5 percent annually, and turbine rehabilitation over the next 15 years will require at least $775 million in today’s dollars. A growing set of cost indicators suggest the government can’t continue propping up the system.
Meanwhile, since construction of the dams, all of the Snake River basin’s wild salmon and steelhead have been listed as endangered or threatened, and several species have been driven to extinction. The demise of Snake River chinook salmon, preyed upon by iconic endangered southern resident orcas in Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean, is also limiting the orcas’ ability to recover and elevating the urgency for action on the lower Snake River.
Expand the dialogue box below to learn why change is afoot on the lower Snake River.