Guest column: In response to the salmon crisis

September 24, 2019
Guest column: In response to the salmon crisis


There is a genuinely compelling case to be made for the calling our salmon and steelhead situation a crisis, and Yancy Lind’s well-written opinion piece, “The grim outlook for Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead,” tackles that subject head on.

I agree with many of Mr. Lind’s points on the subject. On the other hand, there are some points that I respectfully disagree with and feel are inaccurate representations of the situation at hand.

A dangerous narrative has been developed, which claims that the Bonneville Power Administration, “is going broke,” and that its dams are no longer cost-effective.

Simply put, the facts do not match up with the story being told.

The administrator for BPA, Elliot Mainzer, put forth a very strong defense of BPA’s financial situation in response to this spreading narrative.

Similarly, many people have echoed a storyline that says the lower Snake River dams are not economically viable, but that assertion is based on incorrect assumptions about how, when and where BPA sells its power.

Despite this fact, many people would like to see these dams breached because they feel we must do something.

I truly sympathize with the sincere desire to make a difference; however, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that dam breaching isn’t something that would save salmon populations.

That’s because the cause of the salmon crisis is much bigger than the Columbia River Basin.

Government data shows that from Southern Oregon to southeastern Alaska, the percentage of adult chinook salmon returning to rivers has been dwindling over the past decade.

Many of the rivers involved are undammed and free flowing. This means that turning the lower Snake into a free flowing river is unlikely to be a meaningful solution.

However, Mr. Lind and I do agree that The Blob and dangerous ocean and river temperatures pose a significant threat to the future of our salmon and steelhead.

In a scientific conference in Portland in May, biologists from around the world echoed similar findings; warming ocean temperatures are harming salmon populations.

Also the New York Times article from February entitled “The world is losing fish to eat as oceans warm, study finds” provides important insights into how far-reaching this problem is.

Our region is responding with bold clean energy goals, but many people are not aware of how important hydroelectricity is for us to achieve those goals.

Hydroelectricity from dams provide almost 50% of the region’s total energy and 80% of the Northwest’s carbon-free electricity.

Hydroelectricity also helps us add other renewable resources.

Solar and wind are very important as we fight our contribution to climate change, but they are intermittent. This means their electric output fluctuates based on sunshine and wind.

The challenge for the grid is that if there is too much or too little power at any one time, blackouts can occur.

Hydroelectric dams are essential because they can quickly “turn on and off” to help balance the grid.

Said another way, hydropower partners with solar and wind to provide a consistent power supply in a completely carbon-free way.

No other source of energy or storage has achieved these capabilities on the scale of hydropower.

We need to look at these issues strategically. An oceanwide problem requires a solution that addresses the ocean.

The idea of pulling out renewable resources, like the lower Snake River dams, threatens to only worsen the severity of climate impacts, like The Blob that Mr. Lind refers to.

Ultimately, like Mr. Lind, I ask the readers of this newspaper to recognize the critical nature of the climate threat.

It represents the single greatest threat to salmon and steelhead. Hydropower is part of the solution. I encourage you share your support for hydroelectricity with your elected representatives.

— Kurt Miller is the executive director of Northwest RiverPartners.

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