NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Economic Effects Of Removing Pacific Northwest Dams

October 11, 1999

It has only been two to three decades since the Army Corps of Engineers constructed four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington State to provide hydroelectric power to area communities. Those dams and another four on the Snake-Columbia system have even allowed Lewiston, Idaho, to become an inland port -- shipping 50 million bushels of grain a year to Asia and other destinations.

But now environmentalists, the Clinton administration and the Corps want to demolish them so as to help salmon spawn.

"You take that dam away and it would be like taking Boeing out of Seattle," warns the manager of the port of Lewiston, referring to plans to destroy the Lower Granite Dam. "We'd lose our economy," he predicts.

  • The dams help farmers irrigate, barges to operate and provide 11 percent of the power which lights homes and offices from Washington to Montana.
  • While environmentalists are behind the move to do away with the four Snake River dams, they are being joined by trucking companies and highway construction firms.
  • The Bonneville Power Administration -- which distributes power from 30 dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers -- says breaching the dams which cost it 11 percent of its total power supply, forcing it to pay about $250 million annually to buy or produce the lost power.
  • The BPA would also be forced to continue to pay $864 million it owes for the dams' construction.

Those costs would push up electric bills in the Northwest by $3.20 to $6.50 a month.

Moreover, breaching the dams would remove about 35,000 acres of farmland from production, since alternative water-delivery systems are not cost effective. Cost: about $10 million, according to some estimates.

Then, shifting grain hauls from barges to trucks and trains would cost farmers another $35 million annually.

Finally, it would cost Washington state as much as $406 million to upgrade local roads and rail systems to handle the increased load.

Some opponents predict that only 2,000 fish will make it back upstream to spawn -- at a final cost of $500,000 each to the area's economy.

Source: Bill Richards, "Feud Flares Up Over Plan to Shut Down Washington Dam System to Save Fish," Wall Street Journal, October 11, 1999.


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