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DeFazio and Bush bedfellows:
Snake River dams must stand forever (Part 4).

by Karl "One Mule Team" Mueller
One Mule Team (blog), March 11, 2008

Ice Harbor Dam (USACE Digital Visual Library) This is the fourth installment in our series rebutting the response I received from my Congressman Peter DeFazio regarding the Salmon Economic Analysis and Planning Act. I support the bill as do a broad coalition of sport and commercial fishing groups, conservation groups and taxpayer advocacy groups. Congressman DeFazio and his coalition, the Bonneville Power Administration, the Bush administration and . . . umm, no one else really, do not support the Act (the tide is turning in Lewiston).

Recently, Congressman DeFazio again showed a lack of leadership on this issue by refusing to sign on to a congressional letter requesting that the NOAA consider removing the four lower Snake River dams as part of its Columbia River salmon recovery plan. The agency's own previous BiOp identified removal of the four lower Snake dams as the action most likely to result in spring/summer chinook recovery in the basin.

The Congressman's fourth reason:

In addition, until battery technology improves, intermittent resources like wind and solar cannot effectively replace base load resources like hydropower, because the wind does not blow all the time and nor does the sun always shine in the rainy Northwest. Peter DeFazio, in an email dated June 15, 2007.
My rebuttal:

This statement ignores the very real problem for the region in its heavy reliance on hydropower. Not only does the wind not blow all the time, but the region cannot count on consistent rainfall either, and that is serious problem. In the "rainy Northwest" it does not rain all the time, particuarly east of the Cascades. For that reason, back-up power sources for the majority of the power generated by the four lower Snake River dams already exist.

The BPA and other advocates for these four dams like to trumpet the nameplate generating capacity of these dams when discussing replacement of their power. The problem with that approach is because they are essentially run of the river dams they generate nameplate capacity, if at all, only during the spring run-off which is the period when our power demand is at its lowest. The four dams generate on average about 1150 MW but can be counted on for only about half of that during dry conditions. Thus, the question is how do we replace 575 MW of firm power. Because of the variability of the amount of power supplied the majority of the power (nameplate or average production) is already backed-up. When was the last time the lights went out in the northwest even in a drought? My preferred firm power alternative is geothermal in combination with tidal energy and the continued operation of the mainstem Columbia River dams. The Congressman's criticism of solar power is also misguided.

"Western Oregon receives as much solar energy as the national average. Solar water heating and solar electric systems produce roughly the same energy on an annual basis as systems in Florida. It is actually easier to build a home that produces as much energy as it consumes annually (a 'zero' net energy home) in Western Oregon than in hot sunny places or cold sunny places."
-- Oregon Department of Energy
Furthermore, SEAPA would require a determination of the feasibility of replacement of these base loads with alternatives. If the power can not be replaced through alternative sources, the Comptroller General will also reach that conclusion; thus, this is not a reason to oppose the Act.

Darn pesky facts.

Related Pages:
Will Energy-Storage-by-Rail get Sustainability on Track? by Staff, Sustainable Business News, 3/31/14

DeFazio and Bush Bedfellows: Snake River Dams Must Stand Forever (Part 1) by Karl Mueller, One Mule Team (blog), 3/8
DeFazio and Bush Bedfellows: Snake River Dams Must Stand Forever (Part 2) by Karl Mueller, One Mule Team (blog), 3/8
DeFazio and Bush Bedfellows: Snake River Dams Must Stand Forever (Part 3) by Karl Mueller, One Mule Team (blog), 3/8
Geothermal, G-E-O-T-H-E-R-M-A-L, Geothermal by Karl Mueller, One Mule Team (blog), 3/14/8

March 11, 2008 at 11:34 am


March 11, 2008 at 11:58 pm

Do you know why they don't build wind generation plants on the coast? It seems like it is always windy on the coast. Also, how about placing turbines in the ocean? The constant wave action could generate tons of power and would be a constant source of power. I think Holland is looking into building a power plant that utilizes both the incoming and outgoing tides to generate electricity, we should do the same.

March 12, 2008 at 12:43 am

"Its (sic) the OCEAN, STUPID."

It's the RIVER (dams), HARVEST (sport and commercial) and the OCEAN, STUPID.

Those runs were in trouble before ocean conditions took a turn for the worse and you and I both know that.

March 12, 2008 at 12:03 pm
Jeff Stier Jeff Stier: Senior Policy Advisor at Bonneville Power Administration

First -- the obvious: your response on the merits of this legislation is disingenuous. You and other proponents of this legislation have made up your minds -- the federal dams on the lower Snake River must go. The legislation is purely tactical -- a means toward an end. So the study provisions in the bill (that you seem to hang your hat on) are really irrelevant to the real issue. In any case, this issue has been -- and continues to be -- studied. . . studied. . . and studied. I think we know enough at this time to make a call on the merits.

But before I get to the merits, let me say this: you obviously do not understand electrical power systems. Your response to DeFazio suggests that you believe that solar or wind power (or other intermittent generating sources) can stand on their own. They cannot. They need a generating source that is able to "firm" their intermittent power -- one that has the ability to respond instantaneously to demand. And preferably one that can act as a battery to store their excess generation (at night, for instance, or other periods of lower demand). The only generating source that can do this is hydro. The Oregon Dept of Energy is certainly correct to note that solar generation can produce plenty of power in the Northwest -- on average. But it cannot produce it on demand. And when an electrical supply system cannot produce power on demand -- in real time -- to meet the hourly, daily and seasonal fluctuations in loads (like when you turn on your kitchen lights in the morning), the system will fail -- sometimes catastrophically. But according to you -- pity the poor Northwest, with its "heavy reliance on hydropower" (all emphasis mine).

Hydropower makes it possible for the Pacific Northwest to economically develop and use wind and solar power w/o contributing to greenhouse gas production. How is that? As I said, hydropower is the only energy source that can act as a battery -- that can store power for later use. Think about it. When the wind is blowing and a windfarm is generating, the energy can be taken into the federal hydrosystem and hydro generation can be backed off. When hydro is backed off, reservoirs refill -- supplying "fuel" for later use. The wind displaces the hydro and the hydro serves as a battery. This is what BPA is doing (and it is the first energy supplier in the world to provide this as a commercial product). BPA offers to wind farm owners a service that "smooths out" their intermittent generation -- making it a useful and economical energy source. If the hydrosystem weren't providing this service, it would need to be provided by energy generation fueled by coal, natural gas or nuclear fuels. That is a fact of physics, friend. Pity the Northwest for its heavy reliance on hydropower. Maybe we should start building more coal plants.

(bluefish notes: BPA's Eliot Mainzer has yet to reveal to, other than to say they are part of a system, how the LSR run-of-river dams contribute to the smoothing of the intermittent generation. Absent such evidence, Mr. Stier's reference to the BPA's hydropower system, which includes some of the worlds largest storage dams, conflates the benefits of the four LSR run-of-river dams.)

Now let's talk biology. There are -- let's see if I remember -- I think it's 13 different stocks of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River basin that are listed under the Endagered Species Act. Only 4 of those stocks migrate through the lower Snake River -- and therefore only 4 of those stocks would be helped in any way by the (very distant and unlikely) breaching of 4 dams in the Lower Snake River. As a practical political reality (especially with the growing concern about climate change), I think it's fair to say that these dams aren't going away for many years or decades to come -- if then. So the practical issue before us is whether these fish can survive and recover with those four Snake River dams in place.

The honest answer to this question is that we don't know whether we can put in place a program that will do the trick (but we also don't know whether breaching those dams would provide anywhere near enough biological benefit to outweigh the environmental and economic costs -- it certainly would not be enough to recovery the fish).

But despite relatively poor ocean conditions (since the big shift from very favorable to very poor conditions in about 1975 -- coincident with completion of the Snake River dams, as it happens), recent (1990-the present) trends in abundance are positive for most populations of Snake River spring/summer chinook salmon populations (i.e., populations are growing, on average, during this period). Snake River fall chinook salmon are actually doing fairly well -- their average abundance over the last 5-7 years is approaching recovery abundance levels (despite the fact that they are "harvested" at a rate of 40-45%) . We don't know enough about individual populations of Snake River steelhead to say for sure how they're doing. The "A-run" fish appear to be doing reasonably well, according to dam counts. But the "B-run" fish are not doing well. But then -- they are being harvested at a 15% rate by Indian fishers and at an uncertain rate by sport fishers.

Finally, there are the Snake River sockeye. This is a stock that was nearly extirpated before the four lower Snake River dams were even built as a matter of State of Idaho policy. Many folks believe that the stock was actually extinct at the time of its listing. The current effort is a last ditch rescue attempt -- an effort to undo the combined effects of intentional extirpation, dam building, harvest, and 30 years of relatively poor ocean conditions.

A hell of a lot has been done for Snake River fish since the 1995 Biological Opinion. Survival of juvenile salmon through the hydrosystem is as good today as it was before any of the Snake River dams were built (bluefish notes: a government report states this to be true when three dams were on the Lower Columbia and Ice Harbor was on the lower Snake River. One should also note that survival estimates were less accurate than the methods used today). And that is reflected -- in small part -- in the trends noted above. But a lot more needs to be done and it is not clear whether we can do enough -- in the event climate change and ocean conditions are also working against these fish. Throw in population growth, while you're at it.

So my friend -- this is not a simple equation. But on balance, I think the debate over Snake River dam breaching is a huge distraction. It is also -- on balance -- not a great idea, when you weigh the certain environmental costs (loss of non-polluting energy and capacity) against the extremely uncertain biological benefits to listed salmon and steelhead in the Snake River basin.

Finally -- let me say a word about the serious blind spot that environmental groups seem to have on this subject. Who are the allies of the environmental groups in this debate? Commercial fishermen and Indian tribes (who are also commercial fishermen). These folks are dedicated to a century old hatchery and harvest status quo that has done serious damage to wild fish in the Northwest. Their agenda is to maintain this status quo for the indefinite future. Meanwhile, every new scientific study that is released on the subject hammers another nail into what I hope is the coffin of this hatchery-oriented status quo. For details, see the website of the Native Fish Society.

In any case, Save Our Wild Salmon and other groups are complicit in this travesty.

That's all for tonight. In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I was Peter DeFazio's Legislative Director until about 1999 and worked for him for a total of 13 years (and consider him to be one of the very finest Members of Congress). I presently work for the Bonneville Power Administration on issues related to listed salmon. But I urge you (or others) not to respond with ad hominem -- trying to tear down the message based on the identity of the messenger. Respond on the merits -- if you can -- or don't bother.

March 12, 2008 at 12:43 pm

Mr. DeFazio is a fine congressman--that isn't the point. He has shown leadership in many areas and has been praised on another of my sites for his work on Copper-Salmon and the Klamath. I believe that he fails to show leadership on this issue. I find that Mr. DeFazio's position on the Snake is disingenuous.

I would not suggest that you do not understand the issue. I would appreciate the same. I understand the firm power concept. Snake River dam proponents constantly tout the nameplate generating capacity of the Snake River dams rather than the average Mw production. That is disingenuous. Efficiency measures could save enough power ensure that removal of these dams -- not the entire Columbia hydosystem -- would not threaten baseload supply as we transition to less impactful base load supplies. I certainly edited my rebuttal down to some bare bones. I will post the rebuttal in its entirety for your edification Wednesday.

There is only one reason to fear the results of a study and we both know what that is.

I have simplified the debate for the purposes of this blog because most people aren't interested in a wonk-a-thon. You are. If you want to have a private discussion on the details that is fine with me or we can continue on the public forum either is fine --but like I said most people aren't interested in the level of detail that you or I are. I have never suggested that there is only one cause of salmonid decline in Oregon. Obviously it is a complex issue.

Thanks for stopping by and responding in a fairly thoughtful and mostly measured manner (though clearly I am not your friend and reasonable people can disagree on this issue). I am also not sure why you think I am trying to tear down the message based on the messenger. Is it b/c of the identification with Bush? Their positions line up pretty closely on this issue whereas more progressive congresspeople who aren't afraid of their southern Oregon constituency . . . (yeah, I understand how congressional districts work, friend so no need to suggest I don't) don't oppose the bill.

I've checked out the Native Fish Society. Are you actually suggesting they are fans of the Snake River dams?

March 12, 2008 at 1:37 pm

Geothermal Jeff? Or is coal our only option in the 21st century?

March 13, 2008 at 9:28 am
Jeff Stier Jeff Stier: Senior Policy Advisor at Bonneville Power Administration

Your reply is not credible. You blithely suggest that the energy and capacity values of the Snake River dams can be readily replaced with . . . nothing. Energy efficiency will make up the difference. This ignores the huge challenge we face in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

There is not an infinite supply of energy conservation opportunities nor an infinite capacity to integrate renewable energy resources into the region's power supply (and transmission grid). The region (nation and world, for that matter) needs to significantly and quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to deal with climate change. I'm not particularly optimistic about our culture's ability to do what needs to be done. But you propose digging a 1,000 megawatt hole and starting from from the bottom of it. It's like deciding to run a marathon but strapping 50 lb. weights to your ankles. You must really like a challenge.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council recently had something to say on this very subject in a report released late last year. They noted that to the extent it is feasible to develop new renewable resources and put in place new energy conservation measures, we need to do it in order to address climate change (not to replace the output of non-polluting energy sources like the Snake R dams). They concluded that breaching Snake River dams would be "counterproductive" to the goal of limiting the damage from global climate change -- rather an understatement, I'd say.

(bluefish notes: The Council report estimated an annual increase of 3.2 million tons of CO2 equivalent gases if the loss of four LSR dams were replaced with efficiency and some natural gas power production. Comparing this with the US's total annual contribution of 2200 million tons CO2 equivalent gas, Mr. Steir would more accurately suggest you add four ounces before running a marathon.)

This is an organization with considerable expertise in regional energy supply matters. It is also an organization that tends to be reluctant to take clear positions on polarized subjects like Snake R. dam breaching. But they took a very clear position in this case.

From the standpoint of salmon conservation, breaching Snake River dams would likely provide only limited biological benefit. From the standpoint of global climate change it would be lunacy.

So I've said my piece. I'm sure you'll want to have the last word. But thanks for the soapbox. By the way -- if you re-read my earlier note it should be clear that I was not suggesting that the Native Fish Society thinks large hydroelectric projects are a good thing for fish. I was citing their website as a good source of information on the latest scientific research into the negative effects that hatchery programs have on wild fish. If you're not familiar with the subject, I suggest taking a tour through some of the excerpts of recent scientific research papers that Bill Bakke and company have posted on their site. After my studies into this subject, I have concluded that the most effective measure we could undertake to help wild fish in the Columbia River basin would be to significantly reduce the amount of hatchery production that is taking place. Quickly. But that would entail reducing salmon and steelhead harvest -- commercial and sport. Thus the difficulty.

graphic 1980-2011: US's annual contribution total annual contribution of CO2 equivalent gas, averaging around 2200 million tons.

March 14, 2008 at 2:10 am

You are welcome for the soapbox. Like I said, dissenting opinions are welcome here. Of course I get the last word in this forum at least. It's my site and I will continue to maintain it long after your comments are a footnote in Mule Team history. If you read only one post I can see where you might think I have suggested replacing base load with nothing but that is not the case.

As far as credibility goes, I have no direct vested interest in the BPA's status quo operations. You do.

Naturally, District Judge James Redden may have something to say on this issue as well. So neither you or I will have the final word. We'll all eagerly await how that pans out. The previous plans have been so good they've been remanded! So nice, they did it twice. Of course, after Redden rules again there will be the inevitable appeals and if things don't go your way you can always go the God Squad route.

What a wonderful thing global warming is for the BPA! Anytime someone suggests a change to the hydrosystem you can just stand up and say "global warming--lunacy--global warming . . . did I mention global warming? The status quo is the only way to go--it is the best we can hope for."

It isn't.

What I have suggested is to make gains through energy efficiency and alternative base load sources and retain the mainstem Cloumbia hydrosystem that is the foundation of our regional supply. Alternative baseload sources will include: geothermal and tidal energy and potentially less impactful hydro--turbine technology patterned on the wind farm.

Having stuck a fat hog by building the Columbia/Snake hydrosystem, the area west of the Cascades uses a tremendous amount of electricity per capita--more than our mild climate warrants. We have been on a power binge because we can--electricity prices are among the nations cheapest. There are MW's in efficiency.

Speaking of regional deficits--does the BPA export power outside of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana last year? If so, how much? How many MWs did you send LA's way? How many MWs did you send outside of the region? I am genuinely curious about that. Are we currently running a surplus? How close to the edge are we?

(bluefish notes: The BPA annually sells (exports) as "surplus sales" about 1000 aMW, roughly equivalent to the average output of the four LSR dams.)

Also, despite your uncanny knack for knowing what is inside my mind if Redden rules that the new BiOp passes muster--well then, I will accept that. If the Corps/NOAA produce an aggressive non-breach strategy that will recover listed fish, well then, all the better.

If not, we all know where this is heading.

March 14, 2008 at 7:21 am
Jane Mills

I'm not expert in these salmon issues, but it seems to me that there are concepts that are extremely positive in the abstract and often good in the application, but in specific situations their shortcomings outweigh the benefits. Like manufacturing -- as a concept, manufacturing is good, the jobs it produces are good, it's good for the economy, but that doesn't mean you want factories in the middle of a downtown or a residential neighborhood.

Similarly, hydropower is surely something we need to embrace given global warming, but that doesn't mean every hydro dam in every place is a great idea.

Above the Snake River dams lies a gigantic wilderness, a spectacular habitat for wild salmon, a habitat unrivaled in North America in quality and scope.

Doesn't global warming make it even more imperative that we preserve the ability of salmon to get to that habitat, as their lower-elevation waters heat up to intolerable levels, and fill with predators?

We aren't talking about removing the Grand Coulee Dam, we're talking about the tail on the Columbia hydrosystem dog. And these aren't dams that are providing, in addition to hydropower, giant flood control benefits or irrigation benefits.

Global warming should certainly make us think carefully about our energy sources, but also about the totality of ecosystems that are under such increasing stress. Keeping the dams at the expense of the salmon? That's throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

And yep, the climate change threat should also result in higher scrutiny being given to hatcheries -- again, something that conceptually can be supported, but that can cause severe problems in specific places or when run in specific ways.

March 14, 2008 at 7:36 am
Steve Weiss

I guess I'll just make a couple of points.

First, I think everyone is underestimating the task we face in trying to do our share to tackle global warming. Oregon, for example, has set as a target to reduce its emissions by something like 70% by 2005. Washington, California, and in fact the 11 states and provinces of the Western Climate Initiative have almost as stringent targets. To meet those targets we'll have to shut down about 20 coal plants.

The four Snake Dams at issue here produce about what 2 coal plants do, so if they are also to be replaced, we have to set the target at 22. If we can (and we must to avoid pretty serious consequences) develop the technology--and more important, the will--to generate power from renewables and reduce the amount we use in order to shut down 20 coal plants, we can also shut down 22. Keeping or removing these four dams isn't a make-or-break deal for fighting global warming, but it is for saving these fish, especially as global warming warms up their waters and decreases summer flows.

BPA and other opponents of removing these dams always get real "green" and declare that we simply won't be able to integrate enough intermittent wind power if they are removed. They constantly shout, "what happens when the wind isn't blowing?" My first response is to tell them to go to Texas which is integrating about twice as much wind as we do here without ANY significant amount of hydropower and without huge costs.

How can that be done? Well, you just have a lot of backup generation (as we already have in place due to the fact that the system has to plan for droughts), mainly gas-fired turbines, that you fire up when the wind isn't blowing. This isn't a case of physics, it's just one of costs. Of course, if you have a lot of hydro, it's cheaper to integrate wind, but integration is pretty cheap even using gas-fired generation. It adds maybe a half penny per kilowatt hour to the cost of wind power.

I didn't say it was free, but it's definitely not a deal-breaker. Our power costs have gone up many times more than that from BPA's dead nuclear plants, Enron's frauds, and the run-up of natural gas prices due to the country's wasteful consumption.

In fact, the more wind you have spaced out all over the west, including off-shore, on ridges, in the Gorge, in Wyoming, etc., the less likely that the wind will not be blowing somewhere, so that half cent will tend to go down.

In reality, the problem isn't that the wind might not be blowing. The system always has to have enough reserves to cover big outages like a nuke plant tripping off or transmission line going down. Wind, Mr. Stier, has never claimed to be a capacity resource, it's always been an energy resource. (Sorry, folks, who aren't energy wonks, all I mean is that we don't build wind to cover our peak or reliability needs--what's called "capacity"--instead it's built to displace dirty coal plants' "energy". The real problem the grid operators face isn't too little wind (that's easy, just turn on your back-up generators)). A harder problem is what to do when the wind blows TOO MUCH. For then, you need to be able to turn down other generation, and at night that may be difficult. This is where integrating wind ends up being costly. It requires that at night, when there is little load, the system can't run cheap coal plants, because they can't survive economically by not running 24/7. Instead you have to run gas plants that can be throttled back occasionally when there's too much wind. Gas plants are more expensive than coal.

These details are way too wonky, but I just want to make the point that DeFazio is being disingenious when he stirs up the fear of blackouts from a system with a lot of windpower, when real utility folks know that's not the problem--the real problem is when the wind blows too much. I love Peter, but on this issue he's behaving like Bush--using scare tactics to spin a faulty argument. Peter, don't worry, utility engineers won't accidentally forget to have enough reserves in place for when the wind isn't blowing. If the Texans can do it, we can too.

March 14, 2008 at 9:32 am
Jan Weihmann

I just want to thank you for taking the time (and abuse) to stand up for the preservation of an important resource. This citizen is growing weary of folks who fear and react to the idea of change (which is necessary for a positive future). I am tired of business as usual. These dams were installed in an era when we were conquering the environment (for profit), and ignoring consequences such as habitat or species loss. I am looking for change, as are MANY other citizens. Please keep doing what you are doing, it is much appreciated.

March 14, 2008 at 1:33 pm

Don't worry about Karl, mules have very thick skin!

March 14, 2008 at 1:33 pm
Pat Russell, Clackamas, OR

I am getting tired of the politics and legalistic and wonky arguments for not repairing our salmon fishery. Remove the Snake River dams.

I am also very disappointed that BPA is paying so much attention and $$ to the larger fisheries and literally ignoring many smaller watersheds that feed the main stems, like the Willamette River. In fact, in our urban area (like the Portland area within the Urban Growth Boundary) has a LOT OF POTENTIAL to capture rain and replenish ground water resources (to reduce flash flooding conditions) through softscape (why have commercial properties with 1/2 the site covered with surface parking?). Also, the planting of large scale native trees (especially conifers, such as Douglas Fir) can intercept as much as 40% of the rainfall, absorb it, filter it and allow it to leach into the ground, adding slowly to the ground water.

By intercepting this runoff, the summer/fall flows in our streams could increase.

In the urban areas, there will less likelihood of clearcutting urban trees. Providing generous setbacks of up to 200 feet from the 500 year floodplain will help the immediate riparian habitat next to the stream. Why 500 year floodplain observation? Because we need more capacity in our creek environments to deal with the increased runoff due to global warming conditions (more rain, less snow).

Biologists have recognized the benefit of the smaller, potentially healthy watersheds whether in our urban communities or rural areas--in order to provide more clean and cooler waters into the main stems.

With active management steelhead will return in surprising numbers.

We need BPA/NWPC CIP programs to revisit these watersheds. My little watershed (Kellogg Creek-Mt. Scott starting in downtown Milwaukie and reaching its high point in downtown Happy Valley is just one example of a potentially healthy watershed in recovery in the heart of North Clackamas county's urban center, Clackamas Town Center and 82nd Avenue Corridor).

My little approximate 12 sq. mi. watershed has one signficant problem holding up its progress. As Hwy 99E (McLoughlin Blvd.) crosses the creek estuarine mouth at the Willamette River in downtown Milwaukie, it block fish passage. To "fix" this will require about $10 MILLION dollars (new state highway bridge). The city doesn't have that kind of money lying around, neither does ODOT. However, these agencies and other public agencies and special districts in the watershed over the decades have contributed to the problems created by growth (growth inducing capital improvements). Spreading the total cost around, say 20 public agencies from local, regional, state and federal, the damage repair can be realized.

Is there any way to convince Judge Redden and NOAA/NMFS this this 4(d) listed stream (Steelhead) could be registered in their radar?

A 1951 Oregon Wildlife Commission (Fish and Game) indicated that this creek, along with Abernathy Creek in Oregon City generated about 500 migrating fish a season. Sounds like a real small fish compared to the hopes of the Clackamas River or the Sandy River. But both of these highly rated fish friendly rivers are being high-jacked by water districts (filing water rights to eventually suck it virtually dry to accommodate growth) and these agencies will fight the state's Water Resources Agency tooth and nail for their rights over conservation and watershed "sustainability". In the meantime, our little Kellogg watershed can actually become a net gainer in water if the sewer plant processing about 8 million gallons a day was returned to the upper forest. It is energy intensive. However, compare to the destruction we are imposing upon habitats, this is little sacrifice.

Won't you join me and help us bring these matters to the attention of federal agencies who have a hard time looking at small scale.

By the way, I am wondering why Metro's "Nature in Neighborhood" plan has not been floated before NOAA/NMFS in an attempt to call it the recovery plan for salmon. When asked if their plan was intended to be the primary 4(d) Rule implementation for the Portland urban region, I get funny responses that tell me they know the "plan" is virtually uninforceable and requires a strong dose of volunteerism. And of course, during the Measure 37 and Measure 49, they were worried that a federal mandate would be determined a "taking" under Measure 37 and would have to compensate property owners--as if federal law must comply with local initiatives. Give me a break. The Metro Councils copped out for political convenience. Washington County has virtually no requirement from NOAA/NMFS to enact any recovery mandates/programs other than under the CLEAN WATER ACT. It seems that the Tualatin River never had fish worthy of declaration except in the upper reaches above Forest Grove. I wonder how salmon get to Forest Grove?

To the average citizenery, these political games are very obvious and the public knows there is no real commitment to make a dent in the salmon destruction, whether in the urban area, ag areas, forestry areas or high desert and no man's lands.

Actions always speak louder than words. Its people like Judge Redden that can really turn the tables on bureauracy and inaction.

March 15, 2008 at 3:54 am
Sam Mace

Thanks for the discussion One Mule Team! Apologies before hand for this lengthy response.

I'm originally from Mr. DeFazio's district, outside of Coos Bay. I live in eastern Washington now. I've been involved in effort to remove the four lower Snake River dams for 10 years, and currently work for Save Our Wild Salmon in Spokane, WA. These comments reflect my personal opinions.

One misleading statement from Mr. Stier I need to respond to: that because the Snake River stocks comprise only four of the listed species (out of 13), that somehow they are insignificant. They may be only 4 species, but the Snake River basin historically produced half of the chinook in the entire Columbia basin. And the basin still holds the largest amount of intact salmon habitat left in the lower 48--thousands upon thousands of rivers that salmon could spawn in--if only they could get past the lethal corridor created by the lower Snake River dams. Removing these four dams would have an enormous impact on restoring salmon to the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Steve Weiss addressed the energy issues. I want to address the transportation issues. Those 4 dams were built to allow barge traffic from Lewiston, ID downstream. The Corps promised Lewiston a booming economy--and more fish than ever before--with the construction of the dams. Neither has happened. Lewiston's economy is struggling. Lewiston got a barge system. Other towns and cities got highways and rail instead. Lewiston did not get the winning hand.

Barges work great for shipping bulk products like wheat downstream. They are useless to many other manufacturers, small businesses etc, especially if they need to ship to Seattle, ship east, ship north or south. For example, one of Lewiston's largest employers, Potlatch, ships little, if anything, down the river any more. They have to rely on trucks to get product to Seattle or east.

In addition, the lower Snake River dams are creating a big problem for Lewiston. The silt from thousands of miles of river is piling up behind lower Granite dam, raising the level of the river reservoir. The level of the reservoir is now higher than downtown, held back only by a levee system that is becoming increasingly inadequate. Flood risk is growing. Dredging can't solve the problem. The only option is dam removal or raising the levees, a potentially expensive option. New Orleans, anyone?

The point is the lower Snake River dams are providing diminishing returns to the region, and creating some serious problem beyond the loss of salmon.

Right now many wheat farmers and others rely on the barges to ship grain to Port of Portland. They need an alternative if the dam are removed. While farmers have been staunch defenders of the dams, there are more individuals quietly wondering whether investments in rail and highways could provide them a better and more diverse transportation system long term. What if they could trade the 4 dams and 140 miles of barge corridor for investments to modernize our rail and highways in the Inland Northwest, linking to the new barge terminus at Pasco and providing better freight transport to Seattle and other directions? That would not only benefit farmers, but communities over all.

As someone who grew up in a commercial fishing town and now counts several wheat farmers as friends, what I find most frustrating is that rural communities at both ends of a river system are being pitted against each other. The struggles of sport fishing businesses, commercial fishermen and farmers--and the struggles of their towns and communities--are similar. These folks have far more in common than not.

But the NW Delegation, with some notable exceptions, has done little to bring stake holders to the table. For the most part, our political leaders have stonewalled on the issue of Columbia-Snake River salmon recovery and allowed the issue to come to a crisis point. They have done nothing to bring stake holders together to find solutions. They have only tried to defend the status quo, while the salmon and fishing jobs have dwindled, and the future of eastern Washington's transportation system remains uncertain.

Over here in eastern Washington, we're making an effort to sit down with wheat farmers, shippers, and other interests. Some commercial fishermen from the coast have come over and participated in these meetings with wheat farmers. It's amazing what can happen when people sit down at a table and learn more about each others concerns and issues. Yes, there are differing opinions. But I've become convinced we can restore the Snake River and meet the transportation needs of eastern Washington. And so have a few farmers. A credible transportation system MUST--and CAN--be put in place. But for it to happen we need the Northwest Delegation to support and advance the dialogue we've begun on the ground.

The issue reminds me in some ways of the timber crisis that my hometown lived through in the '80s. My point here is not dredge up the debate over timber harvests, but to say that regardless of what side of the debate one was on, most can agree that towns like Coos Bay would have been far better off if our elected leaders had helped them develop contingency plans and new economic opportunities before the crisis was upon us. We would have been better off under any scenario.

It was inevitable that logging levels were going to decline. The debate was over how much. While Congressman DeFazio is to be commended for pushing for economic relief as part of the NW Forest Plan in the early '90s, a lot more needed to be done 5, 10 years earlier.

Even though many members of the NW delegation were around for the "timber wars," I don't see a lot of evidence that many lessons were learned. I've sat in meetings with Congressional staff to discuss Snake River salmon, and had them tell me that they don't want to get involved, they want to see where the courts go with it. One staffer told me that maybe the only way the Snake River issue resolved is through a legal train wreck.

Frankly, it's hard to hear those words and keep my composure. If our elected leaders would step out with a little courage and initiative, we could create a long term plan that met the needs of salmon, fishermen and farmers.

We need leadership, not continued stonewalling and foot-dragging. The train wreck is coming. It's not good for the residents of DeFazio's district, and it's not good for eastern Washington either. There is room for common ground, if only Mr. DeFazio and other NW leaders would step up to the plate and give it half a chance.


Sam Mace
Spokane WA,
originally from Allegany, OR

March 15, 2008 at 6:58 am
Steve Weiss

Just one thing to add to Ms. Mace's comments, regarding the cost to farmers for barging their wheat.

While it's true that barging wheat COSTS about half of what it takes to ship by rail, the fact is, the farmers never see that savings. The barge operators know there is no functioning rail system now (it has been left to decline since the dams were built), so they do not pass the reduced costs on to the farmers.

The US Army Corps of Engineers studied this in the mid-'90s and found that it COST about 10 cents/bushel to ship by rail, and only 5 cents/bushel to ship by barge. However, barge operators naturally charged around 9.5 cents/bushel--just enough below the rail cost to keep the farmers going that route. It's a free market, after all.

I don't know what the costs are today, but I'm sure the same logic applies. So even though the dams may provide a cheaper form of wheat transportation, the farmers don't reap any benefits, it all goes to a few barge owners. It's simply a myth that farmers benefit from these dams.

March 16, 2008 at 11:49 am

Be warned "pig pile[rs]" (Mr. Stiers words, not mine) the debate shall continue tomorrow when we expect another post from Jeff who strongly feels that the Snake River Dams should remain intact.

Check back to thoughtfully consider and accept or rebut his points as I will be unable to do so -- mercifully I will be in pursuit of steelhead.

March 17, 2008 at 2:17 am
Jeff Stier Jeff Stier: Senior Policy Advisor at Bonneville Power Administration

As I noted to Karl Mueller (the proprietor of this site), this exchange of views seems to have become a real pig pile. So I feel obliged to respond.

First -- I am not BPA. I am Jeff Stier. I am not speaking for BPA. I am expressing my own views -- sincerely held. These are views I have held for much longer than my association with BPA. And they are based on a reasonably well-informed consideration of the merits of the issue.

I first responded to Karl's postings because an acquaintance of mine advised me that a blogger was criticizing my friend and former employer Peter DeFazio for his views on a bill I consider fairly bogus. So I checked out Karl's site and on the spur of the moment hammered out a response. Now it has apparently become the Clash of the Titans. Mano a mano! How quaint.

And by the way -- I am not BPA's VP for National Relations. I was until 2005, when I moved from Washington, DC back home to Oregon. I am presently a much more humble personage.

But again -- I am not speaking for BPA and to conflate my views with the real or imagined views of the agency I work for is really to discredit and disrespect the person -- me in this case.

And that brings me to my second point. If you will refer to my first response to Karl, you will see that I urged Karl (and the rest of you) to avoid ad hominem. If your Latin is rusty, the phrase is argumentum ad hominem -- an argument against the person. It is a common debating tactic in which one seeks to discredit the individual making an argument, rather than responding to the merits of the argument. In my opinion, it is often an indication that someone is either unwilling or unable to respond on the merits. It is the debating equivalent of a blow below the belt in boxing. And it tends to drag an exchange of views down to the level of an exchange of insults. I can exchange insults with the best, but I'd rather keep this discussion on a higher level. I'm really interested in what some of you have to say in response to my views on the merits of the proposal to breach Snake River dams.

Let me give you a couple of examples from this blog of some argumenta ad hominem, to help y'all avoid going down that path again. In post #8, Karl responded to me by writing "As far as credibility goes, I have no direct vested interest in the BPA's status quo operations. You do." Now I can understand that he might have misinterpreted my response as a personal attack. I began my earlier response by saying "Your response is not credible." I meant, Karl, that your response was not credible. Not that you are not credible. And the response I referred to was your stated position that the entire output of the Snake River dams could be replaced with energy efficiency (from Karl's post #5: "Efficiency measures could save enough power ensure that removal of these dams. . . would not threaten baseload supply. . . "). I do not believe it is a credible position to insist that Snake River dam removal can be carbon-neutral. More on that, and Steve Weiss' comments, in a moment.

But I need to also note that Karl's post #8 is simply chock full of argumenta ad hominem. For instance, he completely conflates me with BPA and asks: "How many MWs did you send LA's way? How many MWs did you send outside of the region?"

I haven't sent any megawatts to LA or anywhere else. Again: I am not BPA. I have absolutely no "vested interest" in BPA's status quo operations. On the contrary, I think BPA and the region can and should be spending considerably more to save wild salmon and steelhead. I'd also like to be sure the money is spent on measures that will provide real biological value.

And I have to say that the rhetorical question strongly suggests a poor understanding of the integrated nature of the western interconnection. But it is no sin to lack a thorough understanding of the western interconnection -- the seasonal nature of historic power exchanges between the Northwest and the desert Southwest -- etc. Very few people need to know this stuff, fortunately.

On to Steve Weiss, who is also guilty of argumentum ad hominem. He also confuses me with BPA, stating: "BPA and other opponents of removing these dams always get real "green" and declare that we simply won't be able to integrate enough intermittent wind power if they are removed."

This is clearly an effort to discredit the person (me) and thereby discredit the argument. I'm not BPA. These are my views, based on my independent review of the facts.

And the last personal note -- please don't disrespect or discredit the sincerity of my concerns about climate change and about the huge appetite that Americans have for the world's resources (which is exactly what Steve was doing in the comment quoted above). I have a longstanding and very personal concern about these issues and I live my convictions. For example, I commute by bicycle 26 miles a day, 5 days a week and 12 months of the year. In the DC area, my bicycle commute was a little longer (and more dangerous). Back in Eugene it was shorter. But I'm more dedicated than most to reducing my personal impacts.

I'm also kind to my dog.

So enough of that. To keep this at a manageable length, I will send this piece and then write another to respond to a couple of good points in Steve Weiss' comments. Thanks for listening.

March 17, 2008 at 4:05 am
Jeff Stier Jeff Stier: Senior Policy Advisor at Bonneville Power Administration

Now on to Steve Weiss' comments. Steve notes that a cosiderable amount of wind generation is being integrated into the power system in Texas without hydro as a firming resource. He goes on to note that we have natural gas generating plants in the Northwest that can be "fired up" to firm a wind resource.

That's exactly my point. Removing Snake River dams -- and thereby reducing the hydrosystem's abilty to integrate intermittent generation like wind -- means we would burn more fossil fuels than we would otherwise. The only question is -- how much more. This is pretty much the same conclusion that the Northwest Power and Conservation Council has come to: removing Snake River dams would not be carbon neutral. And remember that losing the hydro capability also means you lose one of hydro's unique features -- its ability to act as a battery and store surplus wind generation for later use. A gas plant can't do that.

Steve makes another point, however, that I think really crystallizes the issue. He characterizes the current carbon reduction goals in the western states as being equivalent to shutting down 20 coal-fired generating plants. He adds that the Snake River dams are the equivalent of about 2 coal plants. He then reasons that adding 2 more plants to a 20 plant burden (a 10% increase) is probably no less feasible than meeting the current goals.

Put another way, I think that Steve is implicitly saying that the potential negative environmental consequences of removing these four dams (which he believes are manageable) are outweighed by the positive biological benefits of removing the dams. I think that's a reasonable point of view. I disagree with it, but it's logical and reasonable.

I disagree with it because (1) I see the environmental negatives in dam removal as being far less manageable than Steve asserts. I suspect we have a much greater challenge ahead of us than simply reducing fossil-fuel generation in the West by the equivalent of 20 coal plants. And with such a huge hole to fill already, it seem crazy to me to consider digging the hole any deeper -- especially if there are other approaches to salmon recovery that have the potential to recover the fish.

Which leads me to this question: what biological benefits would result from breaching Snake River dams? This is kind of the nut of the issue, don't you think?

There have been numerous studies done regarding the potential biological benefits of breaching the four Lower Snake R. dams (as I noted to Karl -- this is already one of the most studied environmental issues on the planet -- I don't think we need more studies mandated by Congress that would add nothing to the existing body of knowledge). The existing estimates of SR dam breaching's biological benefit span a very wide range. Toward the lower end of the range, the lifecycle survival improvements to Snake River salmon and steelhead from dam breaching are readily achievable by other means. Toward the high end of the range, dam breaching starts to look pretty attractive (from a purely biological point of view, i.e discounting the climate change effects).

Where in this range the truth lies primarily depends upon how much latent -- or delayed -- mortality one believes is caused by trauma to the fish incurred during passage through the hydrosystem -- either in-river or by barge (there are other hydrosystem effects that could also cause delayed mortality, and I'll get to that).

This latent mortality debate has been going full force in the scientific and policy communities since the Snake River dams were completed in the mid-70s. The Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) recently reviewed the subject and concluded that absolute latent mortality attributable to the hydrosystem is probably not measurable or knowable. The ISAB advised the region to focus on survival metrics that can be measured and on actions that can be taken to reduce measurable mortality.

In that regard, a belief in significant hydrosystem-caused latent mortality is like a belief in God -- it is an untestable and unprovable hypothesis. And like a belief in (a) God, it seems to fuel a policy debate that has the appearance at times of holy war.

In any case -- scientists CAN measure total salmon and steelhead lifecycle survival. We know pretty well what the survival rates are as the fish pass through the hydrosystem, thanks to PIT tag technology. We also know how well fish that survive to below Bonneville Dam (the last dam on their seaward migration) survive to adulthood. But we don't have a good handle on the causes of post-Bonneville mortality (and most of the mortality in the salmon lifecycle occurs after the fish pass out of the hydrosystem).

So -- what does the latest research suggest on this point? (That's a rhetorical question.) As I said, we have good data on so-called smolt-to-adult return rates, i.e. how many adult fish return for each juvenile fish that passes through the hydrosystem. Two researchers from the NOAA Science Center recently published a paper that finds an extremely high correlation between survival to adulthood (post-Bonneville) and the timing of a smolt's arrival into the estuary (again: below Bonneville). When spring chinook salmon smolts arrive earlier in the season, they tend to return as adults at much higher rates. When they arrive later in the season, their survival falls off markedly. This is thought to be a function both of seasonal changes in the near-shore ocean environment (i.e., food availability) and differences in smolt size and maturity when they enter salt water.

This is pretty intuitive. It has long been known that a significant effect of the hydrosystem is that it disrupts migration timing. So an alternative to the hypothesis that dam and barge-caused trauma lead to delayed mortality is an hypothesis that the hydrosystem's disruption of migration timing is a primary cause of hydrosystem-caused post-Bonneville mortality.

In practice, what this suggests (and what the federal agencies have proposed) is that juvenile spring chinook salmon migrants be left in the river -- with optimized spill -- until about mid-April. The data indicate that their survival to adulthood will be optimized, as well. However, after about mid-April, chinook smolts survive better if they are barged -- and thus hurried on their way to the ocean. Therefore a maximum transport operation is indicated by the data after mid-April in most years.

Attorneys for Save Our Wild Salmon have strenuously opposed this operation, even though the best available scientific information suggests that it will improve salmon survival. And that gets back to my point about religion. I'm prepared to go where the science leads us. I'm not sure the same can be said everybody involved in this debate. Also consider -- that if the migration timing hypothesis is correct, it is a problem that is largely manageable w/o breaching dams.

And with respect to the question of dam breach -- I have no doubt it would improve survival for migrating salmon and steelhead originating in the Snake River and its tribs. But I very much doubt that the improvements would be of sufficient magnitude to justify the climate change costs. I believe -- and I admit it's a belief, though one founded in a lot of salmon population modeling I've been involved in -- that we can POSSIBLY recover these fish w/o breaching dams. I say possibly, because if the ocean is unfavorable for salmon for a long period into the future -- as a result of climate change or just as a function of natural climate cycles -- things don't look good. (And let's not forget the significant effects of a growing population in the region.)

So my weighing of the relative costs and benefits of dam breach reaches a different conclusion than Steve's. Or Karl's. But I think it has to be understood as a weighing of costs and benefits. Because there would be both environmental costs and benefits to breaching Snake River dams.

Finally -- and on perhaps a lighter note -- if we're going to talk about breaching dams in the Columbia River basin, why not one of the dams in the mainstem Columbia? At least that would benefit listed fish in the Upper Columbia River, as well as the Snake (and the fish in the Upper Columbia are in worse shape than the fish in the Snake). Any why not the Dalles Dam? I've always wanted to see Celilo Falls. . .

March 17, 2008 at 8:22 am
Matt Stansberry

Jeff, I wanted to jump in here and say thank you for weighing in on this topic. While I side with salmon in this case, I think you've made some great points, which is why this thread of comments is really important and why it has gotten so much response. You've elevated the debate beyond generalities, which is what we would need to move forward to help save the salmon.

I do dispute your response that you are not a vested party -- I'd say eight years working for the BPA would qualify you as having a bias, regardless of your employment now.

March 17, 2008 at 8:22 am


I agree with Matt that you have articulated your position well and have helped move the discussion beyond generalities. It comes as no surprise that you have not moved me to your side of the debate though you do make some good points that I can agree with.

I agree with your concession that removal of the four lower dams would increase smolt survival. I also agree that it would be nice to see Celilo. More importantly, removing Dalles Dam would also correct what is in my view a violation of the treaty right to fish in all usual and accustomed places. But removing Dalles dam would not, in my view, result in the same level of biological benefit as removing these four dams. This is a discussion of those dams.

This is also not a dam removal site. I have said before if Redden rules in favor of the government I will accept that. My interest is in recovery -- not dam removal. I don't care if the dams come down or not as long as the stocks meaningfully recover. That brings me to a question that I will address later.

You say that SEAPA would add nothing to the body of knowledge and contribute nothing to the debate. This is an opinion but you state it as a fact. It is your personal belief just as it is my belief that action by investigatory arm of Congress could add some clarity as well as get the issue on the legislative radar as opposed to remaining in the domain of the agencies and the judiciary.

I will admit that I am not familiar with the carbon emissions targets and whether we need to reduce our emissions by the amount of 20 coal plants beneath current levels or future projected levels or what.

NB, I have pointed out a source of energy that is readily available that could replace the aMWs of firm power generated by these four dams. There is really no rebuttal for that except that these sources lie in pristine areas. While some geothermal resources are in such areas, many are not and there is potential there. I have not suggested that geothermal is a panacea for our energy difficulties, but it is currently an underutilized resource.

Perhaps I'm too optimistic and maybe the status quo is the best of all possible worlds (or at least our best of several bad options reminiscent of the dem vs republican quandry), but I believe that the region could rise to the challenge of replacing these four dams without substantially adding to our carbon footprint.

It is a challenge to be sure but it is possible. It will require some changes . . . but huge changes are required regardless of whether we keep or breach these dams if we want to do something about global warming--and it might be too late anyway. As an aside, I applaud Jeff's efforts with his bicycle. Stemming global warming likely will mean consuming less--an unpopular proposition.

I'd also like to ask, what does recovery mean? For the purposes of the Endangered Species Act it is something pretty pitiful (and this is not exact) but it just means that the population is large and stable enough to avoid a jeopardy listing. It means the stock is not at a high or moderate risk of extinction within 100 years (or something like that). The main point is that recovery, in the federal sense does not mean a return to historic abundance or even relative abundance but only to a level that is necessary to probably avoid extinction so we can get on with the business of operating the hydrosystem.

Is the plan adequate to prevent extinction and based on the best available science? Those are essentially the questions before James Redden.

So far the Columbia River BiOps have been unable to convince an impartial arbiter that the plan is sufficient to meet even those modest requirements.

Assuming there is a cost/benefit tradeoff, I come down on the side of the Snake River salmon. I also believe, and it is a belief, that we can modify our grid and our consumption patterns enough that we could live without the Snake River dams without increasing our carbon footprint.

Change is required. It is difficult. It can be done.

March 21, 2008 at 3:18 am
Steve Weiss

I'll be the first to admit I'm not one to look to for advice on the scientific benefits of removing the four Snake Dams. However, on an anecdotal, common sense level, I can't believe that 120 miles or so of slack, warm reservoirs are very beneficial to their survival. The ESA also makes it clear that a fix that involves artificial means such as barging isn't really all this is about. It instead points to a naturally surviving wild population with enough protected habitat to make it on their own.

(Have you ever driven up the Snake river and seen how ugly, barren and unused those reservoirs are? And then once you get past the last one how beautiful the wild river is? According to old Army Corps of Engineers maps, there were hundreds of NAMED rapids in that stretch--they have to be big to be named-- and something like 50-70 small islands you could camp on and which protected and preserved the wild habitat. Can you imagine the beauty (and tourism) that would become again?. . . and the great rafting/fishing trips? Why do we set our sights so low and accept the environmental degradation those dams have caused? For a tiny reduction in our power rates?)

As to my point that we're going to have to shutter all of the NW's 20 coal plants in order to meet global warming prevention targets by 2050. That's something like 7,000 MWs of coal. If we have the technology and will to do that, upping the target to 8,000 MWs to also replace the Lower Snake Dams' output, is not insurmountable. I will soon have a paper out that estimates the cost of adding 8,000 aMWs of renewables, mainly wind, that would raise NW rates by around 7%. (And the dams' portion of that is around 1%). That's not cheap, but it is imperative we do our share in reducing our emissions. The incremental 1% for dam removal is therefore not an undue price when put into that context.

Remember, it is the Snake stocks, above all others, that have the best chance of survival in a warming future. That's because they spawn in the highest, coldest and cleanest habitats of Idaho wilderness.

Karl "One Mule Team" Mueller
DeFazio and Bush bedfellows: Snake River dams must stand forever (Part 4).
One Mule Team (blog), March 11, 2008

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