New Analysis Builds Economic Case For Removing Snake River Dams

Four-part analysis investigates value of salmon protection, renewable energy replacement for hydro, and dam removal as a job creator


Chris Nelson, (206) 940-1605

Sightline Institute, an independent, nonprofit research center, today launched “The Case for Removing the Snake River Dams,” a weeklong series highlighting the economic benefits of removing four dams on the lower Snake River.

The series considers the significant opportunities — fish recovery, power generation, agriculture and jobs, as well as new revenue streams for river-dependent communities — that would come from restoring the lower Snake River.

“This report tells us that if we remove the dams to protect salmon from extinction, we can still retain all the key services of power, irrigation and transportation,” said Joseph Bogaard, executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon. “Moreover, we can create more local jobs in the process, and create an economic boost from new renewable energy sources like wind and solar.”

Tom France, regional director of the National Wildlife Federation, said elected leaders have an urgent obligation to prevent an extinction crisis.

“We are at a unique moment in time,” he said. “There is growing consensus that pushes us beyond the efforts we’ve taken to date — which have not yielded sustainable recovery — and toward a real and meaningful recovery of wild salmon. Healthy, robust salmon runs are critical to our environment and our regional economy. But we have to act if we are going save salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

The Sightline study — authored by Daniel Malarkey, Sightline senior fellow and a former deputy director of the Washington State Department of Commerce — builds on recent analysis by the independent economic consulting firm ECONorthwest on the benefits and costs of restoring the lower Snake River. Malarkey was a consultant for that original work.

The first piece in the series — “It’s Not Even Close: Economics Says the Snake River Dams Should Go” — considers ECONorthwest’s valuation of the salmon runs as natural features without market prices. The analysis notes:

  • A natural river system would improve salmon passage, likely increasing populations of endangered fish and reducing the risk of extinction.
  • Valuing the intrinsic worth of keeping salmon from going extinct has a longstanding precedent from courts, states and federal agencies like the Bureau of Reclamation, which have done similar valuations for decades.
  • Washington residents’ demonstrated willingness to pay to “recover” or “protect” or “reduce extinction risk” of wild salmon is significant.
  • When you take into account the wishes and values of Northwest people, it becomes clear that the costs of the dams are far higher than the benefits they provide.

“This report evaluates the value of healthy salmon runs to the people of the Pacific Northwest, the true costs of maintaining the dams, and the numerous positive economic benefits of dam removal,” said Steve Mashuda, managing attorney for Earthjustice’s Oceans Program. “The findings are critical to the conversations we need to be having in the region as we look toward solutions that keep farmers and other river users whole, while also helping salmon and orcas and the communities that have been harmed by the dams.”

When all factors are considered, the Sightline Institute series finds that restoring the Snake River to its natural state would be a big net win for the Northwest and the nation: “The economic prospects of the region are brighter without the dams.”

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