Patagonia campaigns to remove Snake River dams, restore salmon population

Patagonia has launched a campaign to remove Snake River dams in the Pacific Northwest.

The campaign, Free the Snake, which features a short documentary of the same name, seeks to remove four dams along the river that runs through Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Washington in order to help restore salmon populations. The dams in question are all in Washington State.

The documentary outlines the importance of salmon on the river’s ecology.

“The kind of fish runs we’ve had historically in the northwest, you can view as a nitrogen pump that’s basically scavenging food out of the ocean and bringing it back on land,” said David Montgomery, a professor at the University of Washington, in the documentary. “It feeds the bugs and the trees in the forest. They feed the eagles, they feed the bears — essentially fertilizing their own world.”

According to Montgomery, dams interfere with salmon life cycles thus limiting their roles in the local environment.

Patagonia's Free the Snake campaign
Dams interfere with salmon life cycles.

“The four dams in the Snake River in the upper reaches of the Columbia basin are a clear over shoot,” said former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babitt in the documentary. “And they are, in my judgment, largely responsible for the destruction of the salmon runs that we used to see all the way up into the Rocky Mountains in Idaho.”

The Snake River used to be one of the most important rivers for spawning of anadromous fish and supported species including chinook salmon, coho salmon and sockeye salmon, as well as steelhead, white sturgeon and Pacific lamprey.

Controversy surrounding dams on the river and its fish populations are not new.

All together the river has been home to 20 dams. The four dams in question— Ice Harbor Lock and Dam, Lower Monumental Lock and Dam, Little Good Lock and Dam and Lower Granite Lock and Dam — are all hydroelectric, which provide 4.3 percent of the region’s total energy production, according to a 2014 article by The Seattle Times.

Patagonia's Free the Snake campaign focuses on the removal of four dams along the Snake River.
Patagonia’s Free the Snake campaign focuses on the removal of four dams along the Snake River.

But, retired engineer at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jim Waddell said in the documentary that keeping the dams running would cost at least $150 million a year.

“A dam is a means to an end, and we’ve got it the other way around now,” he said. “We look at them as end states. They’re built, they’re there, they’re going to stay forever. And the intent was to increase the economic output of a region in the country. So when they stop doing that, they’re no longer viable.

“These four dams are really expensive to operate and the minute they diverge from that end state that you’re after, you gotta look at them as — wait, we need another tool here. Is it wind energy? Is it solar power? Let’s look at this as a means not an end.”

Patagonia’s campaign includes a petition asking President Obama to remove four “deadbeat” dams on the lower Snake River as well as asking Washington State residents to contact their state senators demanding action.

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