Economic Study Finds That Bypassing Lower Snake River Dams Would Result In Increased Employment And Economic Opportunities For Pacific Northwest Residents
11/2/1999 — — An in-depth analysis of the economic impacts of bypassing the four dams on the Lower Snake River has found that, contrary to the claims of some political leaders in the Pacific Northwest, the region will actually benefit economically in the long-term as a result of dam removal, particularly if it adopts strategies to enhance the positive impacts of a bypass while offsetting the negative effects.
“The findings of this study demonstrate that if we approach this action thoughtfully, it is an opportunity to make the lives of many Pacific Northwest residents better,” said Jeff Curtis of Trout Unlimited, which sponsored the study with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.
The study used and analyzed data collected by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers’ Drawdown Regional Economic Workgroup (DREW) in reaching its conclusions. DREW estimated that over 24,000 short-term and 4,700 long-term jobs would be created as a result of bypassing the Lower Snake River dams. In this case, “short-term” refers to the nine-year construction phase of dam bypass. Further, DREW estimated that approximately 6,200 long-term jobs would be lost.
The study, conducted by ECONorthwest, of Eugene, Oregon, examined and analyzed the economic impacts of partially removing the dams and considered the opportunities and steps necessary to offset the negative economic impacts that may occur as a result of that action. Its findings were that not only would bypassing create widespread economic benefits including the creation of more than 3,100 long-term jobs in the recreation industry alone and countless benefits to Native American tribes and the commercial fishing industry, but that the negative impacts that will occur can be addressed and offset through sensible and feasible measures.
In addition, the ECONorthwest study concludes that DREW’s findings underestimated the positive economic impacts of dam removal because DREW did not calculate quality-of-life issues and the positive economic impacts they would have on local and regional economies as a result of dam removal. Economists have long maintained that a key factor in attracting high-level, higher-paying industries is the natural environment surrounding an area and the quality-of-life opportunities it offers. The ECONorthwest study concludes that the economic benefits from quality-of-life improvements afforded by dam bypass could be among the most significant and lasting benefits that would result.
The study also reports that DREW’s work to date has failed to recognize that the economy in the Pacific Northwest is continuing to evolve and many of the industries which may be impacted by dam removal are in decline, and will continue to lose both jobs and income. DREW further failed to calculate the costs of the approximately $10 million annually in taxpayer-funded subsidies currently enjoyed by the transportation beneficiaries of the dams that would be eliminated.
“Clearly, this study shows that the economic opportunities that will occur with a decision to bypass the Snake River dams are large and can be enhanced even further if we develop and implement sensible strategies to address the negative impacts that some inevitably will feel,” said Todd True of Earthjustice.
In March of this year, over 200 scientists sent a signed letter to President Clinton in which they cited dam removal as holding the best promise for reversing declining salmon populations on the Snake River. Among the signers were numerous highly-regarded scientists who have studied the salmon issue for years, many of whom have worked for both federal and state agencies. Further, a recent report issued by a group of state, tribal and federal fisheries scientists concluded that bypassing the four Lower Snake dams is the best option for salmon recovery.
“Science has been telling us that bypassing these four dams is the best way to save Snake River salmon. The ECONorthwest study makes clear that bypass can make economic sense, too,” said Curtis. “When you consider the economic benefits will reach far beyond saving a species that is the icon for this region, there is no longer any excuse to ignore bypassing the dams.”
By economic sector, the study found:
- Construction. Bypassing the dams will generate about 12,000 new jobs during the nine-year bypass phase. The impacts on those currently involved in operation of the dams – estimated to be between 1,193 and 1,651 jobs – could be offset through targeted and affordable worker-retaining programs.
- Tribal. Bypassing the dams would provide significant employment and economic benefits for regional Native American tribes. Bypassing will also prevent costly compensation to tribes for failed treaty obligations due to an insufficient number of salmon.
- Recreation. Within 20 years after the dams are bypassed, over 3,100 recreation-related jobs worth about $200 million in sales per year will be created.
More importantly, bypassing the dams will restore quality-of-life assets that will return large and widespread economic benefits to the local and regional economy that extend far beyond recreation.
- Commercial fishing. While DREW’s analysis of the impact of bypassing the dams on the commercial fishing industry is not complete, the draft report found that increasing salmon populations as a result of bypassing the four Lower Snake River dams will generate positive economic impacts on the commercial fishing industry from California to Alaska.
- Irrigated agriculture. If all 13 farm operations that are currently using irrigation systems that rely on the Ice Harbor reservoir cease operating and don’t convert to ground water irrigation, as many as 2,256 jobs could be impacted by bypassing the Lower Snake River dams. In many cases, however, irrigation water lost after dam bypass may be offset through a combination of changes to extend existing wells, investments in irrigation infrastructure and purchase of lower return value operations at fair-market price. Moreover, the study found that targeting worker retraining programs to farm workers would create long-term benefits to the region and to individual families by helping these workers move from low-skill employment to higher skill, higher paying jobs.
- Transportation. While bypassing the Lower Snake River dams will increase transportation costs by approximately $18.6 million per year, steps such as expanding the successful Grain Train program could offset those costs. In addition, a net increase of 236 long-term jobs will be created by expansion in the trucking and rail industries and expanded rail and highway infrastructure will create between 2,554 and 4,362 short-term jobs. Benefits of bypassing also include the end to the U.S. taxpayer-funded subsidies of the Lower Snake River transportation system which currently amount to $10 million per year. Residents of the region also will benefit from the improvements made to the transportation infrastructure.
- Electrical consumers. The increase residential electric rates will average $1.07 to $5.30 per month meaning that, for the vast majority of electrical users, bypassing the dams will still allow electricity consumers in the Pacific Northwest to pay some of the least expensive electrical rates in the nation. For those on fixed incomes and irrigated agricultural producers, affordable steps can be taken to offset the increased costs of electricity.
- Water Users. Modification of private, industrial and municipal wells will cost approximately $68 to $111.6 million, affecting approximately 95 of 225 wells within one mile of the Lower Snake River. These modifications will create 1,467 short-term jobs.
ECONorthwest is the Pacific Northwest’s largest and most respected economic consulting firm. Founded by Ed Whitelaw, who has been a professor of economics at the University of Oregon since 1967, the firm specializes in resource and environmental economics.
Trout Unlimited is North America’s leading coldwater conservation organization, dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. The organization has more than 110,000 members in 472 Chapters in North America, with over 8,000 members in the Pacific Northwest.
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund represented hundreds of environmental clients, large and small, without charge. Regional offices are located in Seattle, Juneau and Bozeman, MT, as well as elsewhere across the U.S.