Activists demonstrate in Edmonds for Snake River dam removal

The group held their rally next to the Edmonds ferry terminal. Attention-getting props included inflatable salmon and orca.

A group of more than 20 people united in their determination to raise awareness of the need to breach four dams on the Snake River staged a Saturday morning demonstration and informational event at the Edmonds ferry terminal.

The demonstrators allege that these dams are impeding salmon runs and driving salmon to the edge of extinction. Because Puget Sound orcas depend on these fish as their primary food source, it is also causing certain orca populations to fall below critical levels needed to sustain them, they said.

“Our biggest goal today is to get (U.S.) Sen. (Maria) Cantwell’s attention and get her on board with this issue,” explained event organizer Alison Penny. “Sen. (Patty) Murray and Gov. (Jay) Inslee are already engaged, and we need Sen.Cantwell to join them.”

L-R, group members Karen Davis and Alision Penny hold up a sign showing their support for Snake River dam breaching.

Snake River salmon must navigate eight dams – four on the Columbia and four on the Snake – on both the adult’s upstream journey to spawn and baby salmon’s downstream journey to return to saltwater.

“The four Columbia dams, while still a barrier, allow enough fish passage so the populations can maintain sustainable numbers,” explained group member Karen Davis. “But not so with the Snake River dams.”

She went on to explain that these dams pose a significant hazard as young fish migrate back to saltwater because they slow the river flows, thereby impeding the salmon’s timely return to its marine environment.

According to the group’s informational materials, “Scientists and tribes agree that only dam breaching will adequately restore Snake River salmon populations. This is critical for meeting tribal treaty obligations and for feeding the Southern Resident orca, which are vulnerable to extinction due to a lack of prey.”

In addition, group members argue that the Snake River dams have never been cost-effective, and that their benefits are outweighed by their detriments.

“They were originally built to facilitate barging on the Snake River, with the goal of making Lewiston (Idaho) a major grain port,” Davis said.  “But continued barging means paying for regular dredging and salmon protection/mitigation, all of which costs more than would be lost by simply breaching the dams.  Simply put, these dams are losers economically.”

For lifetime Edmonds resident Alison Penny, the issue hits home on a personal level.

“I grew up here, graduated from Edmonds-Woodway High School and have been around Puget Sound, salmon and orcas all my life,” she said.  “I want to see our salmon restored and our orcas thriving.”

Learn more about the Snake River dams issue here.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

  1. How about removing the real detriment to Puget Sound Orcas food and Salmon / Steelhead of the Columbia / Snake river system: The ever expanding numbers of Sea lions . Remove them ( termination with extreme prejudice ) rather that ruining the Snake River agribusiness / economy. Far as I can tell, Sea Lions bring nothing the table except their fu,r which is no longer allowed to be harvested.

    1. Sealions are a part of the ecosystem and an important food source for the transient orca, so killing them would just further upset the balance. More salmon in the system is the REAL answer, and that would be achieved by breaching the lower Snake River dams. Breaching would be a win for wildlife, tribes, fishermen, local economies and the environment as a whole.
      Agribusiness can thrive without the dams. Farmers will choose whatever is cheapest to get their grain to market. Currently there are three methods – barging, road, and rail. The only reason barging is at all competitive is because we taxpayers subsidize EVERY BARGE. Not only that, but taxpayers also have to pay for salmon recovery efforts since the dams are driving salmon to extinction and violating the Endangered Species Act. We have spent upwards of $20 BILLION in taxpayer money on salmon recovery efforts that have all failed. We have not restored a single run. Instead of continuing to throw money away, that money could be better allocated to modernize our power grid and electrify roads and rail to get grain to market. That would give the river back to the salmon, Tribes and fisherman.
      People say we can’t afford to breach the dams. Looking at the facts, we can’t afford NOT to.

  2. I would like to see an article with the other side of the story: what percentage of salmon get around the dams using the fish ladders, the cost of removing the dams, and the other effects of removing the dams. Perhaps someone on the State’s Orca Task Force would be a good resource.

    1. There was a study recently released by BPA that has good information for those that are interested. The study focuses more on cost to replace the dams and doesn’t go into their impact on salmon and orca. One of the findings of this report is that breaching the dams will result in an increase between $100 and $230 per household per year by 2045.

      I also would like to know what their impact on fish because they are not the only factor affecting salmon.

  3. The lower Snake River dams generate over 3,000 megawatts of carbon-free clean air power, per BPA. Tearing them down and replacing the lower Snake dams with highly efficient natural gas generation would still increase the region’s carbon dioxide emissions by 2.0 to 2.6 million metric tons annually. At the low end, this would be the equivalent of adding 421,000 passenger cars to the region’s roads each year. It would also result in the losss of millions of metric tons of irrigation water for Washington farmers. Farming oasis goes back to desert and huge loss of electric energy for your electric plug in cars, home heating and industry.
    Salmon protection and repopulation in Puget Sound would not be benefited. The salmon currently affected by Snake Dams return from the ocean to the Columbia and Snake rivers and tributaries to spawn, not Puget Sound so; no Orca food benefit. Better to enhance Puget Sound spawning streams and kill excessive predatory sea lions to increase Puget Sound salmon populations.

    1. The Snake River dams were built for barging, not power production. The numbers the BPA cite are POTENTIAL capacity, not actual production. We actually only get about 4% of our power from the lower Snake River dams. That is because these dams offer no storage capabilities, so they only generate power during high flows in fall and spring when there is already an abundance of hydropower in the system. Since it can’t be store and comes when least needed, it is often sold at a loss. That 4% could easily be replaced by other truly green methods that aren’t driving iconic species to extinction and costing billions in taxpayer dollars.

      The term “Puget Sound Orcas” is a misnomer. They are called Southern Resident orca because they historically spend summers in the Puget Sound. Their full range spans from California to Alaska. 50 to 80% of their diet is fall and spring Chinook salmon from the Columbia/Snake river system. That is why it is so critical that we restore these salmon runs. But you are right that it is important to also enhance the salmon spawning streams that empty into Puget Sound where the Southern Residents spend their summers. These orca need an adequate food supply year-round so that they can eat every day, just like you and me.

      Regarding irrigation, only one of the 4 dams provides irrigation, and this could still be possible with a free-flowing river.

      In short, every service the dams provide can be done in other ways. The only thing that is not replaceable is salmon. Salmon are critical to our healthy ecosystem and they need one thing: They need a river.

    2. While it is true that the lower four Snake River dams are carbon-free, they are not greenhouse gas free. They release significant amounts of methane due to the algae build up in their stagnant reservoirs. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is much more potent than carbon dioxide. Also, the dams do not produce anywhere near 3,000 megawatts per year. In fact, they produce less than 1000, which is a relatively small amount of our region’s power. We have the means to replace that power with truly clean alternatives. Not to mention that taxpayers and ratepayers have wasted $26 billion since 1980 on failed salmon recovery efforts in the Columbia River Basin.

    3. The hydroelectric industry touts its operations as clean energy when the opposite is true. Surprisingly, methane emissions have not been measured or monitored, but that is about to change, thanks to a new coalition, Zero Emissions Coalition,

      “We do not know the full extent of the methane problem with reservoirs because there is currently no requirement for reservoir owners to monitor, report, or mitigate their emissions,” said Kelly Catlett, Director of Hydropower Reform at American Rivers. “The best available science indicates that reservoirs are a significant contributor to climate change, in some cases on par with the emissions from fossil fuel plants. That is why it is critically important to measure the methane produced by reservoirs so we understand the extent of the problem and can take steps to reduce emissions.”

      For today’s energy transition to be successful, there must be higher levels of accountability and standards. We cannot rely on obsolete infrastructure and on false solutions.

  4. I grew up in southern Idaho, near Twin Falls, where there are two dams on the Snake. Both are highly important for providing irrigation water to the many farms in what is called Magic Valley, and are crucial to providing hydroelectric power to the residents. While we want to be sensitive to keeping salmon runs healthy, we must balance that with the cautionary saying that without farms, we have no food.

  5. Trying to use the Puget Sound Orca problems to justify removing these dams seems clueless or disingenuous. The activists pushing for Snake River dam removal have not connected the Snake/Columbia Rivers to Puget Sound yet. Some of the Columbia River salmon runs are doing great, how about the operators of the dams improve fish passage on the Snake River which has already been proven to work well on the lower Columbia?

    These activists should find a different cause that makes more sense. Here is one: The tech companies and crypto miners are using more and more of our northwest hydropower, leaving less for residential customers. How about some legislation to force the tech companies to use their billions to generate or buy their own power from other sources, save the clean hydropower for us consumers?

  6. There is a lot of questionable “information” being bandied about here. Whales are intelligent animals who communicate about where food can be found. It’s pretty easy for Southern Resident salmon eaters to move out into the ocean to intercept Columbia/Snake river fish, if they are available. There are an awful lot of Sea Lions and seals and it would be pretty hard to impact the so called Transient’s food supply short of wholesale
    slaughter. They are thriving.

    The answer.might be to just remove one or two upper snake dams to save irrigation and fish and move the grain barge shipping closer to Portland or do it all via rail and truck. Compromise can be a beautiful thing, but we’ve forgotten how.

    1. That is nice. I love compromise Clint. I do think it would be great to electrify our RR rails all over the country. Many years and many lives were given to build those rails thru mountains. Its incredible really. The RR can carry a lot of box cars and employ many people also. Its also an alternative for travel using those rails instead of constant airplane traffic. I read that actually they are the biggest fossil fuel problem in the US. I believe it is true. Yet we never hear anything about electric planes. I can see why ha but think about it. I am a big advocate for business people to zoom more and more. No more trips for a fun day or two and a fancy dinner and hotel room. I know my brother in law does this as that is his job. He is an an attorney and does Anti Trust Law and many big type cases in DC and Boston. However he is zooming more now between Boston and St Louis. How we get the power for the grid I do not know. It is going to take years I believe to perfect these systems. So innovation and patience will be the key. Protesting is not the answer for these problems in my opinion.

    2. Solutionary Rail has done extensive research on current capacity to ship grain by rail – utilizing the shortlines. Most of the grain in the Inland NW goes by truck + rail, rather than truck+barge, and farmers can benefit from State investments in rail that connect service. Federal taxpayers are currently subsidizing the costs of barging, as well as the costs of mitigating fish passage, to the tune of $30million. Rail is a solution to so many of the problems facing us, including the transportation issue for Snake River area grain. Check out the latest presentation/slide deck:

  7. Our southern resident orcas DO NOT eat sea lions or seals. Their diet are Chinook Salmon. Orcas in other parts of the world do eat seals and sea lions. Not here where we live. We could do with a lot less seals and sea lions.

  8. As someone pointed out above, the Orcas we most commonly see in Puget Sound are the Southern “Residents” that prefer Chinook Salmon as a diet. They don’t just live in Puget Sound, but continually migrate up and down from Canada to California, at times, hunting their favorite food.

    The Orcas we refer to as “Transients” are the Northern Resident Pod, that most frequently hang out in Canadian waters just to the North of us, and their preferred diet mainly consists of other marine mammals. They also migrate up and down the coasts of both countries and are, infrequently seen in Puget Sound and Hood Canal hunting their preferred food. In short, like all hunting for survival species, both so called “Residents” and “Transients” are Nomads by nature.

    What we are really talking about here is a natural food chain that man has gummed up with Dams and laws that have created an over abundance of some species, while adversely impacting the very existence of others. It’s pretty hard to un-ring those bells. The Snake R. dams are but one small link in this very complicated chain of cause and affect. At least some of the dams would have to go to bring back any amount of restoration of the natural food chain for the Chinook eating Orcas at least.

    I would guess that as the Southern Orca continue to die off, the Northern Orca will tend to move into their territory to hunt as their numbers grow. Nature always seeks some sort of balance and wins in the end no matter how hard some people try to defeat it or manage it to their benefit. As Bill Nye, science guy, said, “we can’t save the planet, it will take care of itself, we can only save us.

  9. Plenty of misinformation by the dam buster cultists here.

    If the region were to replace the energy produced by the lower Snake dams, it would most likely be with a fossil fuel, natural gas.1 A 2015 BPA reliability analysis concluded that replacement of the lower Snake dams with highly efficient natural gas generation would still increase the region’s carbon dioxide emissions by 2.0 to 2.6 million metric tons annually. At the low end, this would be the equivalent of adding 421,000 passenger cars to the region’s roads each year.

    I suggest putting 50-100 wind turbines in the sound off Brackett’s Landing?

    It never amazes me how when some else’s a– is on the line, all the local experts who have no skin in the game come out, as opposed to Eastern Washington stakeholders.

    1. Are Eastern WA. Stakeholders just farmers, energy workers and shippers, or do the indigenous peoples count too? I would agree that these four stakeholders are the main one’s needing to work things out re: the dams and they probably need to seek some kind of compromise or trial programs to try to meet all their needs to some degree. The Gov. and both Senators might need to facilitate this process.

      1. I’m for compromise. Puget Sounders want to consume energy for their electrified autos and let Eastern WA. communities carry the burden and negative consequences of wind turbines both environmental and as eyesores. They are quickly becoming unpopular on the other side of the state.

        OK, let’s put 25 of them off Brackett’s Landing, as a compromise and trial process, instead of 50 or a 100 , each as tall as the Space Needle, and let the locals bear the brunt for a change.

        This is just BS talk anyway, and nobody cares about what Gov. Inslee has to say. To breach the dams requires an act of Congress. Both Houses. Good luck with that. Regards.

      2. Thank you for bringing up the issue of stakeholders. It’s such an important topic. A stakeholder can be defined as “any people or groups who are positively or negatively impacted by a project, initiative, policy or organization.” The indigenous people are the ultimate stakeholders here, having lived on the banks of the Snake River for some 10,000 years and whose lives, culture, religion, and sustenance depend upon salmon. These are Salmon People who lost everything when these dams were built. They were promised they would be able to continue their way of life, but that has not been the case. These stakeholders absolutely deserve a voice.
        There are also the people of Idaho – many of whom relied on salmon for their livelihoods- fishermen, guides, restaurant and hotel owners – all the small town economies that relied on an influx of tourism during the salmon fishing season. Those stakeholders need to be addressed as well.
        And there are those of us who live here in the Pacific Northwest because of its beauty and abundance. Our most iconic species are threatened with extinction by these dams. Salmon are a keystone species – that means their presence in the ecosystem is so critical that without them, the ecosystem would be drastically altered. Over 130 species rely on salmon for their survival – most notably, our beloved Southern Resident orca, who as we know, are also facing extinction, largely due to a lack of salmon.
        Everything that happens to a river affects everyone upstream and downstream. A river belongs to everyone, and no one. The services the dams provide- 4% of our electricity and barging of wheat that we pay dearly for with our taxes- are not worth losing salmon for. EVERYTHING the dams provide can be done in other ways. The services that the river provides can never be replaced. That is why THESE 4 dams, and NOT the ones on the Columbia, are being considered for breaching. The services they provide are not worth the price we are paying, both economically and environmentally.

        1. If any indigenous people want to live like they did 10,000 years ago, I say go for it. Your misinformation isn’t going to change the fact that dam removal will be costly, and politically implausible on a federal level.

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