Four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington State generate hydropower and allow for regional agriculture and barge shipping to Portland OR. However, the dams impede the migration of local salmon populations (Oncorhynchus spp.), which are in steep decline, and drastically impact the populations of salmon and orca whales, for whom salmon are a primary food source. For years, environmental groups have argued for breaching the dams; other interests counter that the dams are too critical to the economy of the region to lose; and federal agencies assert that the dams can remain and salmon populations will recover with mitigation techniques. Scientific and economic analyses, litigation, and elected officials’ efforts have not been able to move the issue towards a solution. Readers will examine the interests of primary actors in the issue, how they influence the policy process, the role of scientific and economic analyses, and possible approaches for resolving the issue.

INTRODUCTION

The Columbia River and Lower Snake River Dams

The Columbia River is one of the largest rivers in the North American continent, spanning 2,000 km from British Columbia to the Pacific Ocean between Washington and Oregon. Its largest tributary is the Snake River, beginning in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and tracing through the state of Idaho before emptying into the Columbia at the Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland) in eastern Washington [1]. Before human intervention, the Columbia River and its tributaries were noted for their wild, unruly flows, and waters that teemed with salmon.

National attention was brought to the Columbia River’s potential after flooding the city of Vanport, OR. The city was destroyed in the Vanport Flood in May 1948 [2, 3]. The Columbia River Treaty of 1964 between the United States and Canada established a joint effort to build dams along the Columbia River to control flooding, generate electricity, and provide irrigation. The dams allowed for populations to grow in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), and hydropower provided some of the cheapest electricity in the nation, which in turn attracted electricity-hungry industries. Ample irrigation allowed the fertile but very dry areas in the east of the Cascade Mountains to become farming hubs, and the now navigable rivers of the Columbia allowed for cheap shipping via barge for farms, manufacturing, and lumber [4, 5].

Among the dams built in the post-war boom were four dams on the lower Snake River in southeastern Washington State: Ice Harbor Dam, Lower Monumental Dam, Little Goose Dam, and Lower Granite Dam (Figure 1). While all four dams are located in Washington, they have had great effects on the region as a whole. In northwestern Idaho, the port town of Lewiston at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers has benefited greatly from having a barging port, which can only function with the Lower Snake River dams in place [6].

FIGURE 1.

Map of the Columbia River (blue) and the Snake River (yellow). Source: Wikimedia Commons [7].

FIGURE 1.

Map of the Columbia River (blue) and the Snake River (yellow). Source: Wikimedia Commons [7].

In addition to broad benefits, the dams have had negative impacts as well. Salmon populations, already in decline due to the influx of settlers in the 19th century who brought overfishing and habitat degradation, plummeted further as their ancestral streams and rivers became blocked by the dams [8, 9]. Communities with strong cultural and subsistence ties with the salmon, such as the many tribes in the region, have suffered due to the salmon decline. The southern resident killer whale population (commonly called orcas), who depend on salmon as a primary food source, has had a massive decline in population and was listed as endangered species in 2005.

The Lower Snake River Dams have long been a source of controversy, and opposition to the dams and demands to breach or remove them have surfaced over the decades. More than 20 years of litigation, along with efforts by elected officials, has not resolved the issue. The US Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to release a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in early 2020, which will once again address the future of the Lower Snake River dams.

CASE EXAMINATION

Action Agencies

Multiple federal agencies play vital roles in the maintenance and function of the Lower Snake River Dams. Chief among these are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS; informally known as NOAA Fisheries), which is a division of NOAA; the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps); the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA); and the Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec).

NOAA Fisheries, under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), monitors the status of fish stocks, manages for protected marine species, develops and implements plans for species recovery, and ensures compliance with fisheries regulations. NOAA Fisheries also develops Biological Opinions (BiOps), which detail research on how federal activities may affect endangered species and their habitats, as well as suggested courses of action. NOAA Fisheries has released multiple BiOps on the effects of the Lower Snake River dams on salmon. Although NOAA Fisheries determined the dams to be a significant factor in the decline of salmon populations and include breaching the dams as an option, they have so far found breaching to be unnecessary and have recommended other courses of action, such as dam and fish passage improvements [8, 1013].

The Corps was involved in the construction of many dams in the PNW and continues to manage and maintain the dams, including efforts to assist salmon runs. The power generated from the Lower Snake and 27 other dams across the PNW is sold by the BPA, a nonprofit federal power marketing organization (BPA is part of the US Department of Energy but it is self-funding and covers its costs by selling its products). The BPA also funds and implements wildlife and environmental mitigation efforts. In 2002, the Corps released an EIS in which they calculated the potential costs of breaching the dams and concluded that breaching the dams was a financial loss for the PNW [9].

The BuRec is a federal agency within the US Department of the Interior and is responsible for water resource management across the United States. While they do not oversee any of the dams on the Columbia River, their management of dams, reservoirs, and basins further up the Snake River in Idaho, particularly flow management, affects the waters surrounding the Lower Snake River dams. As with all federal agencies, BuRec must adhere to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and ESA in addition to other federal laws.

Salmon: A Keystone Species

Salmon are incredibly important species that support the environment around them, and as such, are considered to be a “keystone species.” In the PNW, salmon provide food for a wide variety of species at all stages of life, not only in obvious sustenance as a food source but also in bringing vital nutrients from the ocean to rivers [14, 15]. Ocean waters are more nutrient-rich than rivers, and returning salmon bring those nutrients in via their decomposition in river beds as well as their consumption by larger animals, such as bears and birds [16].

Salmon are anadromous, which means that they live in both fresh and salt waters over their life spans. They are born and grow in freshwater rivers, then spend the majority of their lives as adults in the ocean, only to migrate back by swimming hundreds of miles upstream to their natal rivers to breed and then die. Salmon are sensitive to minute changes in the river and require specific temperature, nutrient levels, and pH ranges to survive, as well as strong river flows both to migrate and to reproduce. Optimal water conditions, including cold water temperatures, are necessary for salmon eggs (roe) to successfully develop, hatch, and survive in their juvenile forms. Another notable species, the orca whale, has declined in population down to endangered levels. While many factors are driving the decline, such as chemical pollution in the water and human sonar activities, the decline of salmon—a major food source for the orca—has played a large role [17, 18].

For humans, salmon have long been not only a source of food and economic prosperity but also a vital part of many belief systems and cultural traditions. American and Canadian migration to the PNW in the 19th century led to great declines in salmon [8, 19], and the negative impact of dams on salmon populations was noted and legislated as far back as 1890 [20, 21]. Since that time, advances have been made in supporting salmon migration, but salmon populations remain dismally low compared with historical levels.

The ESA, Salmon Migration, and Dams

Under the ESA, 13 distinct populations of Pacific salmon and trout (genus Oncorhynchus) are listed as endangered or threatened species [22]. Of these species, four have historically returned to the Snake River for breeding: the Chinook (O. tshawytscha) spring/summer run and fall run, the sockeye (O. nerka), and the steelhead or rainbow trout (O. mykiss) [8]. Because endangered species (salmon and orca) and their critical habitats are impacted by the dams, the ESA [sec 4(f), 16 U.S.C. Sec. 1533(f)] mandates that federal agencies must create Endangered Species Recovery Plans, with the goal of returning population numbers to a level that allows their delisting.

Under the BPA and the Corps, the dams along the Columbia River and the lower Snake River have been outfitted with various technologies and methods to assist salmon migration both to and from their ancestral breeding grounds. Methods used at the Lower Snake River dams include spill, flow augmentation, transport, and dam improvements such as fish ladders, fish weirs, bypass systems, newer fish-friendly turbines, and selective water withdrawals [23]. Dams change water conditions, including temperature, chemistry, oxygen, and PH (all water quality standards under the Clean Water Act) significantly, but especially flow. Without mitigation efforts, dammed rivers become calm and lose their seasonality, which destroys salmon habitats. When migrating downstream through the Lower Snake River dams during spring and summer months, many juveniles travel through spillways, which are often augmented with moveable weirs and additional spill to emulate natural river flows [24].

Another passage method for juvenile salmon is bypasses, or special routes through the dams that lead directly downstream. Fish are guided away from turbines to bypasses with fish screens, which block most fish from reaching the turbines. For most juveniles, however, they migrate downstream by way of human intervention, during which they are collected at the surface waters and transported by truck or barge downstream, then released into the river. Survival rates of juveniles migrating downstream through dam mitigation efforts are reportedly high at the point of release. Various studies have shown a latent or delayed mortality among juvenile fish migrating via transport, but the cause may or may not be related to dams [25, 26]. Adult salmon returning “home” to spawn migrate either through fish ladders or through transport. Fish ladders are the most common and consist of constructed steps filled with flowing water to imitate a stream. Transport upstream is usually done by barge or truck in locations where a fish ladder is impractical to construct [23].

The Science of Salmon Population Recovery

Spillways, fish ladders, transport, and dam improvements mean the vast majority of salmon, both juvenile and adult, survive the trip along the river [27]. In their 2008 BiOp, NOAA Fisheries concluded that with planned improvement to dams, habitat protection programs, salmon hatcheries, and management of predation from other animals, salmon populations would not only have a very low risk of short-term extinction (24 years) but would also trend toward recovery. This conclusion was supported by supplements to the BiOp in 2010 and 2014 [11, 12].

The Corps has supported this conclusion, and recent information shows the returning populations for adults of four species (chinook, steelhead, sockeye, and coho) for both individual year and ten-year averages at both Bonneville Dam and Lower Granite Dam (Figure 2). The ten-year averages at both dams show marked improvements in the last 10–20 years, depending on the species.

FIGURE 2.

Adult salmon returns recorded at the Lower Granite Dam. Source: [28].

FIGURE 2.

Adult salmon returns recorded at the Lower Granite Dam. Source: [28].

However, some disagree with the Corps’ assessments and conclusions. For example, using data from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Save Our Wild Salmon (SOS) graphs (Figure 3) show that while adult returns in the Snake River Basin for wild chinook, steelhead, and sockeye may be increasing, in all three cases these populations are far below the Preliminary Recovery Goals numbers, and even further away from historical population estimates.

FIGURE 3.

Snake River wild salmon returns from 1950 to 2017. Source: [29].

FIGURE 3.

Snake River wild salmon returns from 1950 to 2017. Source: [29].

Many Actors, Issues, and Interests

Native American Tribes and Nations

The native tribes and nations in the PNW have a deep and historic connection with salmon, both as food and as an important part of their cultures. Four federally recognized tribes on the Columbia Plateau have played large roles in fighting for their legal fishing rights along the Snake River: the Yakama Nation, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation. These tribes also work together on the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), an inter-tribal coalition to manage and remediate Columbia River fish populations and related environmental concerns. Due to multiple treaties signed in 1855, several tribes hold treaty rights to “fish at all usual and accustomed fishing places in common with citizens of the United States,” both inside and outside of their reservations.1

To this day, salmon is a vital element of many traditions, such as the First Salmon Ceremonies or First Salmon Feasts that take place before fishing seasons across the region [29, 30]. Many historical fishing sites, some of them continuously inhabited for thousands of years, were also culturally significant as places where diverse peoples would come to trade, mingle, and celebrate together. One famous example is the former Celilo Falls near The Dalles OR, where bands, tribes, and nations from all over the PNW and beyond came to Celilo Falls for thousands of years until the 1950s when dams built for hydropower and navigation flooded the site. The federal government paid US$26 million to the Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Nez Perce as compensation [31, 32]. Importantly, this payment did not negate the critical legal right of these and other PNW tribes to fish at their “usual and accustomed” areas in exchange for territories. This right was promised to multiple tribes in a series of treaties in the 1850s and included areas both inside and outside of respective reservations. Native Americans fought back through the legal system as early as 1887 with United Statesv. Taylor [13 P. 333 (Wash. Terr. 1887)], and over the next 90 years, multiple court cases were brought to state and federal courts over treaty rights. In 1979, the US Supreme Court affirmed earlier decisions made in US v. Washington [384 F. Supp. 312 (W.D. Wash. 1974)] (commonly known as the Boldt decision) that the treaty tribes had the right to fair and equal fish harvests, which was determined to be an opportunity to take up to 50% of the fish harvest at their traditional sites. The Boldt decision also affirmed the reserved right of tribes in the state of Washington to act along with the state as co-managers of salmon and other fish. These rulings were considered not only monumental court cases for fishing rights but also Native American civil rights as well. Enforcement of the rulings had to be carried out by the US Coast Guard and federal law enforcement agencies, as state and local agencies refused to cooperate [33].

In 2008, the Yakama, Umatilla, and Warm Springs tribes, along with four other tribes and the CRITFC, signed the Columbia Basin Fish Accords with the BPA, the Corps, the BuRec, and the states of Idaho and Montana [34]. The agreements committed hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for fish operations, habitat, and hatchery actions over a 10-year period. By signing, the Yakama, Umatilla, and Warm Springs agreed to drop their legal pursuit of dam removal in exchange for US$900 million for tribal salmon fisheries and habitat restoration.

Environmental Organizations

Several environmental organizations believe that breaching the dams is the only action that has not already been tried which could make a significant difference in improving salmon populations [35]. Key environmental organizations include SOS, a diverse coalition of organizations and individuals concerned with the fate of the Columbia River and salmon; the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), a large national organization for wildlife conservation (and the named plaintiff in the court case against NMFS over their BiOps); and Earth Justice, an environmental law group representing the NWF in NWF v. NMFS (2016 WL 2353647).

Recreation

The reservoirs, dams, and shorelines on the Lower Snake River provide many land- and water-based recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, swimming, and boating [35]. Multiple organizations representing outdoor recreation, sports fishing, and commercial fishing in the PNW have an interest in this issue, yet their interests are not the same. If the dams are breached, the Snake River will be a free-flowing river instead of a series of reservoirs, and the shift to a free-flowing river system would result in the loss of some existing recreational opportunities, yet at the same time create the potential for growth of new recreational opportunities [35].

Transportation

Transportation infrastructure related to the dams includes barge, rail lines, and trucks, in addition to port facilities. The Lower Snake River dams allowed the creation of three inland river ports, often referred to as the Pioneer Ports: the Port of Whitman County (Washington), the Port of Clarkston (Washington), and the Port of Lewiston (Idaho), the latter being a key port for farmers and manufacturers in Idaho shipping their products for export through to the Port of Portland in Oregon [36]. Affordable, fast shipping along the Columbia River to the Port of Portland has allowed for great economic growth. However, barge shipping services at the Pioneer Ports ceased in 2015, and as of March 2019, they have not resumed. Currently, the Port of Lewiston is still in use for cargo shipping; they currently take in breakbulk shipping (cargo not in containers, often machinery). If the dams are breached, it will not be feasible to transport by barge; which would create the need to improve road, rail, and other infrastructure to provide for transportation [35].

Agriculture

Both non-irrigated (dryland) and irrigated agriculture occurs on the approximately 5 million total acres of farmland within the counties surrounding the Lower Snake River. Farmers in the region, especially wheat and grain farmers, have barged their products down to the Port of Portland for decades [36, 37]. Barging allows for the quick shipment of very large quantities of products; one barge is the equivalent of 126 semi-trucks or 35 hopper cars on a train, making barging not only more efficient but also more environmentally friendly as well [36]. According to the Port of Lewiston, barging down the Columbia River saved shippers US$36 million a year compared with shipping via truck or train. Unfortunately for farmers and other shippers at the Pioneer Ports, barge shipping came to a complete stop in 2015 when the large shipping companies Hanjin and Hapag-Lloyd stopped calling at the Port of Portland [38]; farmers and other shippers were forced to turn to truck and rail for their shipping, but continue to hold out hope for barging to continue in the near future, and the Port of Lewiston is in the process of building rail-loading facilities, addressing the need of farmers [39].

Energy

Opponents of breaching argue that the dams provide a majority of the electricity in the region via hydropower; removing them would not only drive up electricity rates but would also mean alternative electricity sources such as coal or natural gas would have to be created. These alternatives would cost more in energy for consumers as well as be worse electricity sources for the environment because the hydropower provided by the dams produces very few CO2 emissions. However, dams are also considered to be a significant source of methane, a greenhouse gas with thirty times the heat-trapping potential of CO2 [40].

Proponents of breaching argue that while the dams do generate electricity, this electricity can be easily replaced by wind power or solar power, both of which are growing industries on the Columbia Plateau. According to the BPA, the hydropower provided from the dams on the lower Snake River is the best answer for energy needs in the Northwest. They emit almost no greenhouse gases [41] while providing steady electrical energy for an average of 1,000 MW or 800,000 homes year-round with a combined potential for over 3,000 MW [42]. It is this energy potential, along with the ability to reliably generate electricity on demand at any time of the year, that the BPA argues makes the Lower Snake River dams necessary and irreplaceable by wind or solar energy [43]. Providing electricity to consumers without failure or blackout year-round, even during above- or below-average temperatures in summer and winter, is the strongest argument of opponents to breaching the dams. Hydropower can generate electricity at any time simply by releasing water through turbines; wind and solar energy, however, can only be generated under certain weather conditions and must be stored, with energy storage being a limiting factor [22, 23].

To address energy concerns, the Northwest Energy Coalition commissioned a study that considered eight potential scenarios for removing the dams and concluded that not only would it be possible to replace the hydropower generated by the dams with wind and solar with minimal cost increases but also GHG emissions could actually decrease if certain environmental policies were enacted for the region alongside dam removal [44].

Economics

Breaching the dams would have broad and significant impacts on nearby communities, the state, and the region, and several conflicting analyses have animated the debates surrounding the costs of maintaining or breaching the dams. A 2002 impact analysis by the Corps concluded that breaching the dams was not needed to help salmon recovery [9]. According to the BPA, the cost of breaching the Lower Snake River dams would be twofold: the cost of the breaching itself, which they estimate to be US$1.3–US$2.6 million [42]; and the cost to the environment. BPA claims that the dams prevent 4.4 million metric tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere every year—CO2 that would be emitted from coal-powered plants that would be required to replace the energy produced by the dams [43]. Furthermore, any alternatives that would need to be constructed and maintained, such as gas plants or wind turbines, would be an additional cost.

In 2014, the Pioneer Ports sponsored a study to measure the economic impacts of the Pioneer Ports, which estimated a positive benefit due to creating jobs, generating local and state revenue through taxes, and providing electricity at a cheaper rate compared with the national average, estimating the overall economic impact on the region to be US$1.52 billion for that year alone [6]. Cargo is shipped down the Columbia and Snake Rivers at an estimated 10 million tons per year, valued at US$3 billion, from industries in wood products, ammunition, and other manufacturing sectors [28, 37]. A 2019 study by ECONorthwest suggests that the benefits of breaching the dams exceed the costs of maintaining them [45]. The Corps is scheduled to release a Draft EIS in early 2020, which will also include an economic analysis of breaching the dams.

Finally, due to the siltation that occurs, all dams have a projected life span that must be taken into account. Replacing or retrofitting older dams will incur large public expenditures that could impact ratepayers [46].

The Influence of Courts and Elected Officials

In 2000, NOAA Fisheries filed a BiOp stating that while the Lower Snake River and other dams on the Columbia River threatened certain ESA-listed species, such as salmon, the proposed alternatives mitigated this threat. In response, the NWF filed a lawsuit claiming that the BiOp violated the ESA and NEPA. In 2003, an Oregon district court agreed, ruling that the 2000 BiOp was “arbitrary and capricious” and ordering NOAA Fisheries to release a new BiOp (NWF v. NMFS 254 F. Supp. 2d 1196 [D. Or. 2003]). In 2004, NOAA Fisheries released a new BiOp, concluding that the operation of the dams would not jeopardize listed species. NWF filed a complaint challenging the 2004 BiOp, asking for a preliminary injunction that would require the agencies to increase the amount of water passing through spillgates on certain dams during the summer of 2005. A district court granted this injunction and later rejected the 2004 BiOp, ordering NOAA Fisheries to develop a new BiOp (NWF v. NMFS 524 F. 3d 917 [9th Cir. 2008]). Additional BiOps and supplementary BiOps were released in 2008, 2010, and 2014; in each of these BiOps, NOAA Fisheries continued to conclude that while the Columbia River dams did present threats to ESA-listed species, proposed alterations to dams and salmon migration efforts were sufficient to negate these threats. Lawsuits against the BiOps continued, with courts consistently ruling against the BiOps and ordering increased spills.

With the most recent BiOp in 2014, NWF, joined by the state of Oregon, continued their lawsuit, claiming that not only did NOAA Fisheries violate the ESA but also the Corps and the BuRec violated NEPA by not filing an EIS of their own. The court agreed, ordering NOAA Fisheries to issue a new BiOp by 2018 and an EIS from the Corps and the BuRec by 2021. Further injunctions were issued ordering increased spill, operation of juvenile bypass systems and Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag detection systems, and disclosure by the Corps and the BuRec about planned expenditures at dam facilities. The Court of Appeals affirmed these injunctions [NWF v. NMFS 184 F. Supp. 3d 861 (D. Or. 2016)].

Throughout the years of NWF v. NMFS, two federal judges stated multiple times that breaching the Lower Snake River dams is an option that must be considered seriously by the action agencies, at least as a contingency plan. The agencies have responded that BiOps are not required to have contingency plans and that breaching the dams would require an act of Congress. Opponents of breaching the dams have decried these lawsuits and the subsequent court orders and injunctions as scientifically unsound and an overreach of judicial jurisdiction.

In June 2017, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) introduced a bill (H.R. 3144, 115th Congress) to prevent any “structural modification, action, study, or engineering plan” that may hinder electrical generation or navigation along the Snake River unless authorized by Congress. H.R. 3144 was cosponsored by four other representatives: Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Greg Walden (R-OR), and Kurt Schrader (D-OR). It was referred by the House to two committees: the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (who discharged it without amendment) and the Committee on Natural Resources (who referred it to the Subcommittee on Natural Resources, Water, Power, and Oceans); the latter held hearings on the bill in October 2017 and discharged it in April 2018 for markups by the Committee on Natural Resources. Later that month, an amended version of H.R. 3144 was introduced to the House, where it passed with 225 ‘yeas’ and 189 ‘nays’. It was then received by the Senate, where it was referred to the Committee on Environmental and Public Works and “died” in committee [47].

In December 2018 in an “unprecedented” move, a pact was reached between the federal agencies involved, the states of Oregon and Washington, and the Nez Perce Tribe to increase dam spills at specific times and to reduce at other times in order to benefit both salmon and electricity rates. This pact will be in effect for 3 years [48, 49]. Representatives McMorris Rodgers and Newhouse (both R-WA) criticized the pact, contending that increased spills would not help and would cost extra money.

The state of Washington recently moved to regulate the federal dams within its domain over concerns regarding rising water temperatures and water pollution levels. This concern was brought to attention by the nonprofit Columbia Riverkeeper, who sued the Corps over oil pollution from the federal dams into river waters in 2014 and 2017 [50]. The EPA had issued draft permits to the Washington Department of Ecology but later rescinded them, citing a need for more internal reviews, shortly after the state announced its intention to regulate the dams [50]. This came months after President Trump issued a memorandum shortening the deadline of the new court-ordered EIS on the Lower Snake River dams by a year [51].

Finally, Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) has taken on the issues of salmon and orca recovery as high priority agenda items, along with energy and climate. In 2018, he commissioned an “Orca Recovery Task Force” that made several recommendations. One recommendation suggested establishing a stakeholder process to discuss potential breaching or removal of the Lower Snake River dams, which resulted in a Draft Stakeholder Engagement Report, issued in December 2019 [35].

CONCLUSION

The Lower Snake River dams have been fraught with controversy since their inception, and the controversy has only increased in intensity during the 21st century. A decision on breaching the dams requires consideration of the effects on the environment, society, and the economy of the PNW, and how these factors are intertwined.

Climate change has already begun to exacerbate environmental problems for salmon in the form of rising temperatures, changing water quality, and less water due to reduced runoff from snowpack. Proponents of breaching the dams say that removing the dams is the only viable option to mitigate these conditions. Opponents argue that improvements to the dams can successfully combat these challenges. Current practices for managing salmon runs may prove inadequate and need to change in the future because dam modifications will be needed as increased temperatures lead to higher energy needs in the summer for refrigeration and air conditioning while stream flows decrease [52]. Flood conditions may also change, and although the climate in the PNW may change for the warmer, it will also change for the wetter, with more precipitation coming to the area as rain rather than snow. Dams higher in the region have significant flood control storage, but lower in the basin, including the Lower Snake dams, there is little to no storage [52].

Extensive scientific and technical analyses, litigation, and policy actions have not yet succeeded in charting a path forward. Perhaps the 2020 Draft [53] EIS, along with stakeholder processes, offer some hope for future progress.

INTRODUCTORY VIDEO AND OTHER RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS

CASE STUDY QUESTIONS

  1. What interests and values are at play in this situation?

    • How have the actors holding those interests and values influenced (or attempted to influence) the issue?

    • Are there particular interests and values that are more important to consider than others?

    • Are there interests and values that are not represented?

  2. There are many areas where scientific and economic information is critical for understanding this situation. Do you think more information is needed? If so what kind?

    • Can the different interpretations of salmon migration data, economic data, and other data be reconciled? How?

  3. If passed, H.R. 3144 would override judicial orders and state activities, making any changes to the dams contingent on Congressional (federal) action. Do you agree with this?

  4. People who create policies are rarely scientists, but the policies they design often rely on scientific information. How best can scientists and policymakers come together to create and implement policy?

  5. Is this an “all or nothing” situation, where all of the Lower Snake River dams must be breached, or are there other potential solutions?

AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS

EL conducted the initial research on the case for her undergraduate capstone project at the University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. CR supervised the initial case research and writing; revised and edited the draft and final versions of the case for publication; and developed the teaching notes.

The authors acknowledge the legal assistance of Lawrence Lopardo, J.D. and editorial assistance of Heidi Kuehn, M.A., M.S.

FUNDING

This case study was not funded.

COMPETING INTERESTS

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS

Text S1. Teaching Notes.Docx.

1.

(Nez Perce Treaty, 1855); (Umatilla Treaty, 1855); (Warm Springs Treaty, 1855); and (Yakama Nation Treaty, 1855).

REFERENCES

REFERENCES
1.
Lang WL.
Columbia River. The Oregon Encyclopedia
;
2019
. Available: https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/columbia_river/#.XjcUvyN7lPY.
2.
Geiling N.
How Oregon’s Second Largest City Vanished in a Day. The Smithsonian
. 18 Feb
2015
. Available: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/vanport-oregon-how-countrys-largest-housing-project-vanished-day-180954040/.
3.
McGregor MN.
The Vanport Flood. Oregon History Project
;
2003
. Available: https://oregonhistoryproject.org/articles/essays/the-vanport-flood/.
4.
USACE
.
Columbia River Basin Dams. US Army Corps of Engineers: Northwestern Division
;
2012
. Available: https://www.nwd.usace.army.mil/Media/Fact-Sheets/Fact-Sheet-Article-View/Article/475820/columbia-river-basin-dams/.
5.
USACE & BPA
.
Columbia River Treaty History and 2014/2024 Review
;
2009
. Available: https://www.bpa.gov/news/pubs/GeneralPublications/crt-Columbia-River-Treaty-History-and-2014-2024-Review.pdf.
6.
Peterson S.
Port of Lewiston Economic Impacts on the Regional Economy
;
2014
. Available: https://portoflewiston.com/2014/10/port-of-lewiston-economic-impact-study-available/.
7.
Wikimedia Commons
.
Columbia River Map - Snake River Highlighted
;
2009
. Available: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Columbiarivermapsnakeriverhighlighted.png.
8.
NOAA Fisheries
.
Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion
;
2008
. Available: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/resource/document/consultation-remand-operation-federal-columbia-river-power-system-11-bureau.
9.
USACE
.
Lower Snake River Juvenile Salmon Migration Feasibility Report/Environmental Impact Statement. USACE Walla Walla District
;
2002
. Available: https://www.nww.usace.army.mil/Library/2002-LSR-Study/.
10.
NOAA Fisheries. Federal Columbia River Power System Adaptive Management Implementation Plan Update;
2018
. Available: https://archive.fisheries.noaa.gov/wcr/publications/col_basin_partnership/3.22.2018_fcrps_triggers_factsheet.pdf.
11.
NOAA Fisheries
.
Supplemental Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion
;
2014
. Available: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/resource/document/consultation-remand-operation-federal-columbia-river-power-system.
12.
NOAA Fisheries
.
Supplemental Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion
.
2010
. Available: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/resource/document/supplemental-consultation-remand-operation-federal-columbia-river-power-system-11.
13.
NOAA Fisheries
.
Federal Columbia River Power System Adaptive Management Implementation Plan
;
2009
. Available: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/resource/document/federal-columbia-river-power-system-adaptive-management-implementation-plan.
14.
Schindler DE, Scheuerell MD, Moore JW, Gende SM, Francis TB, Palen WJ.
Pacific Salmon and the ecology of coastal ecosystems
.
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
.
2003
;
1
(
1
):
31
37
.
15.
Naiman RJ, Bilby RE, Schindler DE, Helfield JMJM.
Pacific Salmon, nutrients, and the dynamics of freshwater and riparian ecosystems
.
Ecosystems
.
2002
;
5
(
4
):
399
417
.
16.
NPS
.
The Salmon Life Cycle. Olympic National Park
;
2018
. Available: https://www.nps.gov/olym/learn/nature/the-salmon-life-cycle.htm.
17.
Mapes LV.
Orca survival may be impossible without Lower Snake River Dam Removal, Scientists Say. The Seattle Times
. 15 Oct
2018
. Available: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/orca-survival-may-be-impossible-without-lower-snake-river-dam-removal-scientists-say/.
18.
NOAA Fisheries
.
Southern Resident Killer Whales and Snake River Dams
;
2016
. Available: https://www.salmonrecovery.gov/doc/default-source/default-document-library/3-16-2016_srkw_factsheet-pdf_t_d.pdf.
19.
Naiman RJ, Bilby RE, Kantor RE editors.
River Ecology and Management: Lessons from the Pacific Coastal Ecoregion
.
New York
:
Springer Verlag
;
1998
.
20.
NWPCC
.
Fish Passage at Dams
;
2019
. Available: https://www.nwcouncil.org/reports/columbia-river-history/fishpassage.
21.
Mapes LV, Ringman S.
Elwha: A River Reborn
.
Seattle
:
Mountaineers Books
;
2013
.
22.
BPA
.
Managing the Columbia River System to Help Fish
.
2010
. Available: https://www.bpa.gov/news/pubs/Pages/FactSheets.aspx. Accessed 6 November 2018.
23.
BPA
.
Hydropower: How the Federal Columbia River Power System Works for You
;
2010
. Available: https://www.bpa.gov/news/pubs/Pages/FactSheets.aspx. Accessed 6 November 2018.
24.
Larinier M.
Environmental Issues, Dams and Fish Migration
. In: Marmulla G, editor.
Dams, Fish and Fisheries: Opportunities, Challenges and Conflict Resolution. FAO Fisheries Department
;
2001
. Available: http://www.fao.org/3/Y2785E/y2785e03.htm. Accessed 9 January 2019.
25.
Anderson JJ, Ham KD, Gosselin JL.
Snake River Basin Differential Delayed Mortality Synthesis. Final Report. PNWD-4283
.
Battelle
:
Pacific Northwest Division
;
2012
. Available: http://www.cbr.washington.edu/sites/default/files/papers/PNWD-4283_Differential_Delayed_Mortality_Final_Report.pdf.
26.
Dauble DD, Hanrahan TP, Geist DR, Parsley MJ.
Impacts of the Columbia River hydroelectric system on main-stem habitats of fall Chinook Salmon
.
North American Journal of Fisheries Management
.
2003
;
23
(
3
):
641
659
.
27.
USACE
.
US Army Corps of Engineers Walla Walla District
;
2018
. Available: https://www.nww.usace.army.mil/Missions/Lower-Snake-River-Dams/.
28.
Save Our Wild Salmon. Factsheets and Reports
. Available: https://www.wildsalmon.org/factsheets-and-reports/. Accessed 12 January 2019
29.
CRITFC
.
First Salmon Feast. Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission
;
2019
. Available: https://www.critfc.org/salmon-culture/tribal-salmon-culture/first-salmon-feast/.
30.
Roche J, McHutchinson M.
First Fish, First People: Salmon Tales of the North Pacific Rim
.
Seattle
:
University of Washington Press
;
1998
.
31.
CRITFC
.
Celilo Falls. Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission
;
2019
. Available: https://www.critfc.org/salmon-culture/tribal-salmon-culture/celilo-falls/.
32.
Barber K.
Celilo Falls. The Oregon Encyclopedia
;
2019
. Available: https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/celilo_falls/#.Xkr3eSN7lPY.
33.
Mulier V.
Recognizing the full scope of the right to take fish under the Stevens treaties: the history of fishing rights litigation in the Pacific Northwest
.
American Indian Law Review
.
2006
;
31
(
1
):
41
92
.
34.
CRITFC
.
Columbia Basin Fish Accords
;
2008
. Available: https://www.critfc.org/fish-and-watersheds/fish-and-habitat-restoration/columbia-basin-fish-accords/. Accessed 25 February 2019.
35.
State of Washington
.
Lower Snake River Dams Stakeholder Engagement Report. DRAFT Provided for Public Review and Comment
;
2019
. Available: https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/images/Lower%20Snake%20River%20Dams%20Report%20Draft%20for%20Public%20Review_122019.pdf?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery. Accessed 23 January 2020.
36.
Port of Lewiston
.
Port of Lewiston - Idaho’s Only Seaport
;
2019
. Available: https://portoflewiston.com/our-port/who-we-are/history/.
37.
Mattoon D.
Pioneer Ports Drive Economic Development in the Inland Northwest. Inbound Logistics
. 22 Oct
2015
. Available: https://www.inboundlogistics.com/cms/article/pioneer-ports/.
38.
Harbarger M.
Port of Portland Subsidizes Lewiston-to-Portland Container Service after Shipping Lines Pull Out. Oregon Business News
. 4 Dec
2015
. Available: https://www.oregonlive.com/business/2015/12/port_of_portland_starts_lewist.html.
39.
Carlson B.
Port of Lewiston Works to Diversify. Capital Press
. 18 Dec
2018
. Available: https://www.capitalpress.com/state/idaho/port-of-lewiston-works-to-diversify/article_1416ad8c-025e-11e9-be75-1b62d323ee87.html.
40.
International Rivers
.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Dams FAQ
. 1 May
2007
. Available: https://www.internationalrivers.org/resources/greenhouse-gas-emissions-from-dams-faq-4064. Accessed 17 February 2020.
41.
BPA
.
Measuring the Carbon Content of BPA’s Power Supply
;
2013
. Available: https://www.bpa.gov/news/pubs/Pages/FactSheets.aspx. Accessed 6 November 2018.
42.
BPA
.
A Northwest energy solution: Regional power benefits of the lower Snake River dams
;
2016
. Available: https://www.bpa.gov/news/pubs/Pages/FactSheets.aspx. Accessed 6 November 2018.
43.
BPA
.
Power Benefits of the Lower Snake River Dams
;
2009
. Available: https://www.bpa.gov/news/pubs/Pages/FactSheets.aspx. Accessed 6 November 2018.
44.
Moyer K, Brownlee B. Fraser K, Ramirez D, Comegys G.
The Lower Snake River Dams Power Replacement Study. Energy Strategies
;
2018
. Available: https://nwenergy.org/featured/lsrdstudy/. Accessed 12 October 2018.
45.
ECONorthwest
.
Lower Snake River Dams: Economic Tradeoffs of Removal
;
2019
. Available: https://econw.com/projects-collection/2019/7/29/lower-snake-river-dams-economic-tradeoffs-of-removal. Accessed 17 February 2020.
46.
Hydro Review
.
Dealing with Sediment: Effects on Dams and Hydropower Generation. Issue 1 Vol 25
. 22 Feb
2017
. Available: https://www.hydroreview.com/2017/02/22/dealing-with-sediment-effects-on-dams-and-hydropower-generation/#gref. Accessed 17 February 2020.
47.
Weaver M.
Dam Protection Bill Passes House, Moves to Senate. Capital Press
. 27 Apr
2018
. Available: https://www.capitalpress.com/state/idaho/dam-protection-bill-passes-house-moves-to-senate/article_57b55f89-5f65-5933-ae45-a7c1de5338fb.html.
48.
Mapes LV.
Unprecedented Pact on Spill in Columbia and Snake Rivers Draws Skepticism, Praise. The Seattle Times
. 18 Dec
2018
. Available: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/unprecedented-pact-on-spill-in-columbia-and-snake-rivers-draws-skepticism-praise/.
49.
Mapes LV, Bernton H.
Changes to Dams on Columbia, Snake Rivers to Benefit Salmon, Hydropower and Orcas. The Seattle Times
. 18 Dec
2018
. Available: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/a-new-day-for-fish-hydropower-on-the-columbia-and-snake-rivers/.
50.
Mapes LV.
EPA ices Washington State’s Effort to Regulate Hot Water in Columbia, Snake Rivers. The Seattle Times
. 6 Feb
2019
. Available: http://thetimestimes.trendolizer.com/2019/02/epa-ices-washington-states-effort-to-regulate-hot-water-in-columbia-snake-rivers.html.
51.
Trump DJ.
Presidential Memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West
;
2018
. Available: https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/presidential-memorandum-promoting-reliable-supply-delivery-water-west/. Accessed 9 January 2019.
52.
Flores L, Mojica J, Fletcher A et al.
The Value of Natural Capital in the Columbia River Basin: A Comprehensive Analysis
.
Tacoma, WA
:
Earth Economics
;
2017
. Available: https://www.columbiana.org/PDFs/CRBV-FINAL-DIGITAL.pdf.
53.
USACE/Bureau of Reclamation/Bonneville Power Administration
.
Columbia River System Operations Draft Environmental Impact Statement
. Available: https://www.nwd.usace.army.mil/CRSO/#top. Accessed 14 March 2020.

Supplementary data