Can we save Snake River salmon runs? That question is linked to this one: Can we save the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA)? And: Does it make sense to breach the Lower Snake River dams to save both?
Under average river flows, the Pacific Northwest has an estimated 24 percent energy surplus. Under what the BPA considers "critical water conditions" — that is, the past 100 years' lowest water levels — surplus Pacific Northwest energy sits at 17 percent. In part, due to having to sell that surplus power at ever-lower prices, even at a loss, BPA administrator Elliot Mainzer has recently acknowledged that BPA is financially in crisis.
The Corps of Engineers says the lower Snake River dam turbines have a life expectancy of 35 to 45 years. By 2030, nine of the Lower Snake River turbines will be over 60 years old, and 12 others 50 to 60 years old. The cost of rehabbing all of the turbines: over $1 billion.
Since the Lower Snake River dams only produce 3 to 4 percent of total Pacific Northwest energy, midst a surplus of at least 17 to 24 percent, the Lower Snake River dams' 3 to 4 percent is already unneeded — it's surplus energy.
Shedding itself of these four dams could very well save not only fish, but the BPA, from extinction.