Study warns of ‘significant cost’ if Lower Snake River Dams are removed

SEATTLE — Breaching the four lower Snake River dams in Eastern Washington to help endangered salmon runs recover and replacing the benefits the dams provide could cost between $10.3 billion and $27.2 billion, according to a new report released Thursday.

The draft report, commissioned by Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray, does not make any specific recommendations but is intended to help provide a platform for the public to provide input before the governor and senator make a recommendation on whether the dams should be breached.

“We approach this question with open minds and without a predetermined decision. Both of us believe that, for the region to move forward, the time has come to identify specific details for how the impacts of breach can, or cannot, be mitigated,” said Murray and Inslee in a joint statement.

The four dams, constructed between 1955 and 1975, significantly altered the physical, chemical, hydrological, and biological processes in the Snake River, according to the draft report. Under the Endangered Species Act, all species of salmon that use the Snake River are currently listed as threatened or endangered.

According to the draft report, the main factors prompting interest in breaching the dams are the potential for improvements to West Coast salmon populations, and allowing tribes to care for grave sites where their ancestors are buried and return to over 700 locations where they have traditionally lived, fished, hunted and conducted cultural and religious ceremonies.

But the Association of Washington Business says the dams are vital for providing clean and renewable hydropower to Washington’s growing population.

“The idea that we could breach these dams that have been foundational for our economy without suffering serious economic and environmental consequences is fundamentally flawed,” said Kris Johnson, AWB president, in a statement. “And even though the report released today estimates the cost of replacing the dams to be as high as $27 billion, it still understates the considerable benefits the dams provide in terms of carbon-free hydroelectric power, low-carbon transportation benefits, and region-wide power adequacy.”

Members of the public are invited to submit their comments on the draft report on the lower Snake River dams benefit replacement report website through July 11.

Murray and Inslee say their recommendations on whether the dam should be breached or retained will be completed no later than July 31.