Lower Snake River Dams Benefit Replacement Report:
Final Report and Recommendations from Senator Murray and Governor Inslee
The final LSRD Benefit Replacement Study Report has been released and is available here. The report authors are grateful to the individuals and organizations that provided thoughtful input for both the draft and final report.
This final report does not constitute a recommendation on whether the Lower Snake River Dams should be breached or retained. Governor Inslee and Senator Murray developed a series of recommendations, informed in part, by the final report. These recommendations are available here.
The Governor Inslee and Senator Murray Process
In October 2021 Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Patty Murray announced a joint federal-state process to determine whether there are reasonable means for replacing the services and benefits provided by the lower Snake River dams (LSRD), sufficient to support dam breaching as part of a salmon recovery strategy for the Snake River and the Pacific Northwest. The process built on previously conducted research and include robust outreach to interested parties across the Pacific Northwest as well as close consultation and advisement by federally recognized and treaty-protected sovereign Tribes.
The Governor’s Office hired Kramer Consulting and Ross Strategic (Consultant Team) to support the Inslee-Murray process. The Consultant Team reviewed existing studies and supported engagement with tribal sovereigns, stakeholders, advisors, and experts from across the Region to understand perspectives on the benefits provided by the LSRD, document potential means to replace those benefits, should the dams be breached, and compile associated cost estimates. The Consultant Team prepared a draft report for public review and a final report for consideration by Governor Inslee and Senator Murray. The Consultant Team worked closely with a team of advisors from the State of Washington and with the Governor and Senator’s offices to ensure the work supported the Governor and Senator’s decision making.
Categories of Benefits to Examine
The work was organized around six types of benefits currently provided by the lower Snake River dams: navigation and transportation; agriculture and irrigation; energy; tourism and recreation; community resilience and economic health; and salmon recovery and habitat restoration. The process also considered costs associated with the design and engineering work required for potential site preparation, dam removal, and post-removal actions.
Navigation and Transportation
The LSRD and their associated locks and reservoirs are part of a multi-modal network of rail lines, barge, and trucks. The LSRD and their associated locks allow local agricultural producers and shippers to move agricultural products and other materials up and down the lower Snake River between the Tri-Cities and Lewiston/Clarkston, and support transportation of agricultural products destined for export to ports on the Lower Columbia River. Barging is often the least-cost shipping method for agricultural products and provides competition for other transportation modes, with nearly 10% of all U.S. wheat exports moving by barge on the Snake River. This category investigated alternative projects and activities necessary to support the current shipping volume through LSRD, including reliability and timeliness, as well as potential improvements to barging infrastructure in the Tri-Cities, upgraded and new rail systems, and upgrades and maintenance to the road system.
Agriculture and Irrigation
There are approximately five million acres of farmland in the eight counties surrounding the lower Snake River in Southeast Washington, which is approximately 33% of the total farmland in the state of Washington. Agricultural production in the areas surrounding the dams includes both dryland and irrigated farming. Additionally, wheat growers in Northeast Oregon and Southwestern Idaho rely on the barging system to move goods to market, making the Columbia-Snake River System the nation’s largest wheat export gateway. This category investigated the projects and activities necessary to maintain current irrigation levels and production and support non-irrigated agriculture production.
The LSRD are part of the broader integrated system of hydroelectric facilities that make up the Federal Columbia River Power System, the largest source of renewable electricity in the Pacific Northwest. This category investigated the current power attributes of the LSRD and the projects and activities, including new infrastructure necessary to replace the energy provided by the four dams as well as benefits and needed changes to maintain grid stability, grid services, and energy reliability.
Tourism and Recreation
The reservoirs created by the LSRD provide land- and water-based recreational access and opportunities. Land-based recreation includes hiking, camping, and hunting; water-based activities include fishing, swimming, and boating. Various ports along the lower Columbia and lower Snake River also provide cruises for tourists, serving approximately 18,000 passengers per year. This category investigated the projects and activities necessary to compensate for the loss of current recreation, including recreation-related tourism, as well as opportunities to replace current recreation in a way that provides equal or greater benefit to communities and visitors.
Community Resilience and Economic Health
Many communities have grown up around the LSRD and their benefits. Many people within the region see the dams as symbols of their communities and of regional economic prosperity. This category investigated the projects and activities necessary to support equal or greater economic opportunities for the communities in Southeast Washington, Lewiston, Idaho and Northeast Oregon, and projects and activities that protect and restore tribal cultural resources and sites. This category also examined the economic impacts of changes associated with the operation and maintenance of the LSRD, operations and maintenance of industrial and municipal water supplies, tax revenue for local communities, and property values.
Salmon Recovery and Habitat Restoration
The lower Snake River is home to four Endangered Species Act-listed species of anadromous fish: spring/summer Chinook, fall Chinook, sockeye and steelhead. It is also home to non-listed populations of anadromous coho (which were extirpated and reintroduced), Pacific lamprey, and resident species including white sturgeon and ESA-listed bull trout. Historically, salmon spawning and rearing occurred in both the main river and tributaries. This category encompassed the projects and activities for restoration of the river corridor, including restoration and management of formerly inundated land, if the dams are breached and any additional projects or activities needed to support the current infrastructure for salmon recovery, including hatcheries.
The process of removing the LSRD will require significant investment in design and engineering work for site preparation, dam removal, and post-removal actions. This category investigated the costs associated with breaching the physical dam structures (at a minimum, the earthen berms), sediment dredging and disposition, and the restoration of the natural river channel.