Statement by Lt. Col. Tim Vail, Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Walla Walla District
WALLA WALLA Washington – We’ve heard a lot of discussion about the Corps’ four dams on the lower Snake River. I’d like to take a few minutes and tell you why they provide outstanding value to the Nation.
The four lower Snake River dams provide a great return on investment. These dams cost $62 million per year to operate, an investment that generates more than $200 million per year of clean, renewable electricity, enough to power 675,000 residences. This investment also provides a marine transportation corridor that helps move 3.5 million tons of cargo, worth $1.5 billion a year, to regional markets, which improves the region's economic competitiveness. And this investment provides recreation facilities that host 2.8 million visitors per year. These four dams also benefit the environment by allowing us to avoid the 7,300 kilotons of carbon dioxide pollution that a coal-fired power plant would emit to generate the same amount of electrical power.
Snake River dams also are able to meet peak power loads using turbines that can be adjusted in seconds. The flexibility of hydropower dams makes it possible to integrate highly-variable wind energy into the power grid. When the wind speed changes, some power source has to be immediately ready to add or reduce power to keep the grid stable; hydropower provides that capability. Coal and nuclear power plants require hours for their power output to be adjusted.
As for our fish recovery efforts, the lower Snake River dams are equipped with the most advanced fish passage systems in the world and our fish program is one of the largest fish conservation efforts in the Nation. Fish passage systems like spillway weirs are in place on all our Snake River dams. Survival rates for juvenile fish through spillway weirs range from 95-100%. The investments in fish recovery are paying dividends. Last year brought some of the highest Fall Chinook, Coho and Sockeye salmon returns to the Lower Snake River since Snake River dam construction began in 1962. Corps scientists and engineers team with our many partners to prove dams and fish can co-exist.
This year hot weather and drought conditions presented challenges to fish passage and survival. However, working with numerous regional partners to maximize fish survival we still observed the 3rd highest fall Chinook salmon returns over Lower Granite Dam and the 10th highest Snake River Sockeye salmon return since the dam was constructed. Conditions were unfavorable throughout the Pacific Northwest, but in the Lower Snake River fish managers were able to improve conditions by modifying spill patterns and by releasing cool water from Dworshak Reservoir to moderate temperatures affecting fish in the lower Snake River.
As we face future challenges with optimizing fish recovery, ensuring the efficient flow of goods through the Snake River navigation channel and providing low cost energy, I am confident that, with the support of the American people, we will continue to ensure the Snake River dams provide outstanding value to the Nation.