Study looks at benefits and liabilities of Snake River dams

A new report says the four federal hydroelectric dams along the Snake River in Washington state bring both benefits and liabilities to the region, and there is no clear consensus in the state on whether the giant structures should be removed or retained.

The state Legislature last spring appropriated $750,000 to study the dams, which are blamed by many for declining salmon runs in the Columbia-Snake river system.

The report is intended to help Washington lawmakers decide how to respond to an upcoming federal review of the dams and whether they should be removed. That court-ordered review is expected to be released in February. The report released Friday included data from interviews with 100 people and groups, but it did not include any recommendations and did not look at impacts outside of Washington.

The four dams generate roughly enough power to supply the city of Seattle for a year, and allow navigation of barges between Lewiston and the Tri-Cities, and eventually to Pacific ports.

The report says all species of salmon in the Snake River are listed as threatened or endangered and the dams are the biggest man-made obstacles they face, as they block fish migration, change river conditions, and reduce the survival rate of fish.

But people who support keeping the dams say losing the power would hurt the state’s goal of being carbon free by 2045, especially as the population grows and coal plants are retired.

Breaching the dams would also eliminate the use of barges to transport agricultural products down the river, and eliminate irrigation water for about 47,000 acres of farmland.  (AP)