Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River, seen from the air near Colfax, Washington. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River, seen from the air near Colfax, Washington. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

New report on Snake River dams could affect power bills

An anxiously awaited study on Columbia Basin salmon could have a ripple effect in Snohomish County.

EVERETT — Four dams on the lower Snake River help to keep the lights on throughout the Pacific Northwest, as key suppliers of electricity for the Seattle metro area and Snohomish County.

The dams also pose 100-foot-tall obstacles for a dwindling population of salmon, and the orcas who depend on them.

This week environmentalists, farmers, tribal leaders and public utility officials are anxiously awaiting a federal report about whether the salmon and dams can coexist, or not, on the Snake. The report is expected to be released Friday by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration.

Options range from doing nothing to the dams between Pasco and Lewiston, Idaho, or completely breaching them.

The ultimate decision could affect the price of power statewide and in Snohomish County, where the Public Utility District relies on the dams for carbon-free energy. It could also impact salmon recovery, irrigation, river navigation, flood protection and recreation.

The dams — Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite — are capable of providing about 15% of the power for Snohomish County PUD customers. For now, it’s too early to tell what the exact impact on electricity rates could be, district spokesman Aaron Swaney said.

In 2016, an Oregon judge ordered the Bonneville Power Administration, the nonprofit federal agency that owns the dams, to study the effects the structures have on salmon. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation worked with the BPA to create the new report.

The 1,000-mile-long Snake River, the 13th-longest in the United States, flows from western Wyoming to where it meets with the Columbia River near Pasco. It once produced salmon runs in the millions. Those spawning grounds were disrupted when the dams were built, and environmental groups say they must be breached to restore the salmon.

The BPA has pumped $17 billion into fish restoration projects over the past 30 years, according to the PUD. Despite those efforts, thirteen runs of Columbia and Snake river salmon and steelhead remain endangered or threatened.

An elevated fish ladder designed to help migrating fish swim through the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River near Almota, Washington. (AP Photo/Nicholas K. Geranios)

An elevated fish ladder designed to help migrating fish swim through the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River near Almota, Washington. (AP Photo/Nicholas K. Geranios)

The dams produce about 5% of the region’s electricity, roughly enough to power Seattle. A 2016 BPA report said a new natural gas plant would be required to replace the lost electricity if the Snake River dams were removed.

The dams provide irrigation water to about 47,000 acres of farmland, and that would cease if the dams are breached. The structures also allow barges between Lewiston and Pasco to access ports along the Pacific coastline.

The report could stop short of calling for the demolition of the dams and instead suggest more water be spilled outside of the turbines. This would reduce their ability to provide power but make passage easier for salmon.

Some environmental groups have said that breaching the dams is the best option for salmon recovery, or perhaps the only way to save them and a shrinking orca population.

Removing the dams would greatly reduce the amount of clean energy the Snohomish PUD is able to buy from BPA.

That could force the utility to pay more for power, in turn raising prices to run your washing machine, hair dryer or seasonal affective disorder lamp.

Ahead of Friday’s announcement, leaders from historically opposing groups — fish proponents and public utility officials — signed a letter saying they will work together in advocating for a mutually beneficial plan for the dams. It’s a significant step, in light of past tensions.

Regardless “of their perspective, people on all sides of this issue want the same outcomes — restored salmon populations; farms that are able to grow and get their crops to market; protection of the interests of tribes and communities; and clean, reliable, and affordable electricity,” said Nancy Hirsh, executive director of the Northwest Energy Coalition, in a prepared statement.

The letter expressed a hope that Friday’s report will serve as a “springboard” for the dams’ future, rather than a hard-line plan.

After the study is released, a public comment period is set to open, with a final recommendation expected in July. The Snohomish PUD is pushing to have one of those meetings in Everett.

Employees at the Snohomish PUD plan on spending all weekend poring over potentially thousands of pages of the draft study, deciphering what it could mean for power customers.

John Haarlow, CEO of the PUD, said his agency is focused on a long-term outcome that ensures both fish recovery and clean, affordable and reliable power.

“These are complex issues that go back generations,” he said, “and I believe the only path to enduring solutions is through this collaboration.”

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Members of South County Fire practice onboarding and offboarding a hovering Huey helicopter during an interagency disaster response training exercise at Arlington Municipal Airport on Tuesday, June 6, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. The crews learned about and practiced safe entry and exit protocols with crew from Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue before begin given a chance to do a live training. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish, King counties train together for region’s next disaster

Dozens of agencies worked with aviators Tuesday to coordinate a response to a simulated earthquake or tsunami.

Police stand along Linden Street next to orange cones marking pullet casings in a crime scene of a police involved shooting on Friday, May 19, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lake Stevens man identified in Everett manhunt, deadly police shooting

Travis Hammons, 34, was killed by officers following a search for an armed wanted man in a north Everett neighborhood.

Funko mascots Freddy Funko roll past on a conveyor belt in the Pop! Factory of the company's new flagship store on Aug. 18, 2017.  (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Lawsuit: Funko misled investors about Arizona move

A shareholder claims Funko’s decision to relocate its distribution center from Everett to Arizona was “disastrous.”

1 stabbed at apartment in Lynnwood

The man, 26, was taken to an Everett hospital with “serious injuries.”

A firefighting helicopter carries a bucket of water from a nearby river to the Bolt Creek Fire on Saturday, Sep. 10, 2022, on U.S. Highway 2 near Index, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Red flag fire warning issued west of Cascades

There are “critical fire weather” conditions due to humidity and wind in the Cascades, according to the National Weather Service.

A house fire damaged two homes around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 6, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Photo provided by Marysville Fire District)
Fire burns 2 homes in Marysville, killing 2 dogs

Firefighters responded to a report of a fire north of Lakewood Crossing early Tuesday, finding two houses engulfed in flames.

Police: Passenger randomly stabs man in neck on bus in Everett

The two passengers reportedly did not know each other before the attack. Police arrested a suspect hours later.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Mountlake Terrace eyes one-time projects for $2.4M in federal funds

Staff recommended $750,000 for a new roof and HVAC at the library, $250,000 toward a nonprofit facility in Lynnwood and more.

The Snohomish River turns along the edge of the Bob Heirman Wildlife Preserve at Thomas’ Eddy on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
To build a healthier Snohomish River, more log jams

About $2.8M in grants will help engineer log jams, tear down levees and promote salmon restoration at Bob Heirman Wildlife Preserve.

Most Read