This is the detailed appendix to the Research Paper titled “Is Chinook Recovery Harmed by a Great Misdiagnosis?” presented by Save Family Farming.

The research paper provides an overview showing that the main cause of Chinook salmon decline is ocean mortality. This is caused by 1) warming ocean conditions which uniquely affect Chinook, and 2) by the exponential growth of pinniped predators particularly in the Salish Sea.

Citizens need to know about the abundance of most Pacific salmon, and see that dams, riparian habitat, and water use by farmers are not significant causes of Chinook decline. The solutions advocates propose such as dam removal and massive buffers would cause great harm and do little to nothing to recover Chinook runs. The studies documented here show that if the solutions proposed are implemented irreparable harm will result, with little to no Chinook recovery to compensate for the harm done.

Section 1: Most salmon species at record levels while Chinook suffer
1.1 Alaska Public Radio July 2023 report on Chinook and sockeye harvest
1.2 Historic abundance of Pacific salmon

Section 2: Chinook will not recover based on dam removal
2.1 BC science study documents Chinook decline worse on rivers without dams
2.2 Chinook returns on Elwha dam disappointing after removal
2.3 Latent or delayed mortality not likely caused by fish passage
2.4 Fish passage success: Baker Dam on Skagit river
2.5 Fish passage success on lower Snake river dams

Section 3: Ocean warming and Chinook declines
3.1 NOAA, Sierra Club and many studies point to ocean warming
3.2 Impact of the “blob”

Section 4: Predation and Chinook declines
4.1 NOAA Chasco study documents predation by protected mammals specific to Salish Sea
4.2 Congressional action against protected mammals to protect salmon
4.3 Tribal leaders, Washington scientists and a policy think tank call for predator control

Section 5: Federal agencies concluded that dams need to remain

Section 6: High cost of ineffective solutions
6.1 Dams: Costs of removing four lower Snake river dams
6.2 Dams: Replacing green power produced by dams
6.3 Dams: Impact on farms from loss of barge transportation
6.4 Dams: Environmental impact of loss of barge transportation
6.5 Dams: Impact on communities

Section 7: Contribution of hatcheries to Chinook recovery
7.1 Wild and hatchery production increasing
7.2 Pink salmon hatcheries and abundance
7.3 Chinook hatchery production in comparison
7.4 High cost of Chinook hatchery production

Section 8: False narratives of salmon recovery advocates
8.1 NOAA demonstrates politics takes priority over science
8.2 Dam advocates and media reports are primary sources of misdiagnosis

Section 9: Adjudication, water rights, irrigation and infrastructure

Section 10: Large, inflexible buffers

Section 11: Flooding and storage

Chinook are often called “king salmon.”
Their lifecycle is complicated but results in fat content and flavor preferred by most.

Chinook are often called “king salmon.”
Their lifecycle is complicated but results in fat content and flavor preferred by most.

As the accumulation of research documented here shows, Chinook numbers are in decline largely because of their unique challenges in dealing with warming ocean conditions. Also, because they are targeted by killer whales and protected pinnipeds such as harbor seals and sea lions.

The Salish Sea (northern Puget Sound, Straits of San Juan and Georgia) loses over 25 million Chinook to harbor seals alone. 84% of all Chinook consumed by harbor seals from Alaska to California are consumed in this one area alone. The predation problem is uniquely focused on this one small area in the North Pacific.

Section 1: Most salmon species at record levels while Chinook suffer

1.1 Alaska July 2023 public radio report

The NPR station KDLG of Dillingham, AK on July 7, 2023 reported Bristol Bay sockeye harvests and returns were at record levels. Nushagak River sockeye harvest at that time was 22 million, three times the 20 year average. In Bristol Bay there were 79 million sockeye harvested, up 80% over 20 year average. But Chinook harvest stopped due to numbers below escapement of 55,000 in Nushagak. By July 6 only 28,000 had returned.

1.2 Historic abundance of Pacific salmon, Ruggerone and Conners, 2022:

Fisheries scientists Gergory Ruggerone and James Irvine commented in a guest column on February 3, 2022:

“The numbers of Pacific salmon surviving to adulthood increased following the 1977 ocean regime shift, peaking in 2018 when approximately 950 million pink, chum, and sockeye salmon returned from the ocean. This increase was likely the result of favorable ocean conditions combined with the release of large numbers of hatchery-origin juvenile salmon. Releases of hatchery salmon into the North Pacific reached approximately 5.5 billion juvenile salmon in 2019, a sharp increase since the 1960s when approximately 0.6 billion hatchery salmon were released each year. Approximately 40% of the total salmon biomass in the Pacific during 1990 to 2015 was made up of hatchery salmon, especially chum and pink salmon. Clearly hatchery salmon are now key components of the epipelagic North Pacific Ocean.”

The North Pacific Ocean from Alaska to California enjoys an historic abundance of most species of salmon. Sadly, Chinook are not included in this abundance for the reasons identified in this appendix.

“But pinks aren’t the only salmon species that is booming. In recent years, there have been more salmon in the North Pacific than there have been at any point in the last century.”

An August 14 report in a Ballard (Seattle neighborhood) newspaper said the Ballard Locks were “chock full of salmon right now.” These include Chinook. Counts are from 16,000 salmon in 2019 to likely 50,000 this season.

Section 2: Chinook will not recover based on dam removal

This graphic shows no dams on the Fraser River in BC and numerous dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. But, Chinook salmon are faring worse on many of the rivers and streams without dams than those with dams. This is completely contrary to the narrative sold by media and advocates seeking to remove the four Lower Snake River Dams.

2.1 BC study shows Chinook decline widespread, worse on river systems without dams

The Kintama study shows river systems without dams or human-caused obstacles are no better, and in some cases worse, in adult Chinook returns. The study was published September 2020 in Fish and Fisheries titled: “A synthesis of the coast-wide decline in survival of West Coast Chinook Salmon”. In the course of conducting a different study, the research scientists discovered in Georgia Strait:

“that Chinook survival in many rivers of the Strait of Georgia region had fallen to levels well below those reported for Snake River Chinook.”

This is significant because the focus of Chinook advocates and the media reporting on recovery efforts is primarily on the Snake river system. The four lower Snake river dams are seen as a primary cause of Chinook decline and the greatest obstacle to recovery. This study clearly demonstrated that is not the case. If the dams were the problem then other river systems would show much stronger returns. Smolt-to-adult (SARs) is the key measurement of run strength as it shows how many adult salmon return to their spawning areas compared to the number of smolts that left. The authors wrote:

“Within the Columbia River, the SARs of Snake River populations, often singled out as exemplars of poor survival, are unexceptional and in fact higher than estimates reported from many other regions of the west coast lacking  dams.  Given  the  seemingly  congruent  decline  in  SARs  to  similar  levels,  the  notion  that  contemporary  survival  is  driven  primarily  by  broader  oceanic  factors  rather than local factors should be considered.”

The study area included the entire West Coast, and the study provided results consistent with the more recent Alaska report above:

“We show that, overall, Chinook salmon survival (SAR) has decreased by roughly the same amount everywhere along the west coast of North America and has now reached similar or lower survival levels than Snake River stocks.”

The authors repeatedly point out that the data do not support the conventional wisdom that the Snake river has unique problems with Chinook returns that are directly related to dams. The fact of general decline, including in Asia Chinook, points to ocean conditions as the Alaska fisheries scientists showed:

“The similar timing of the decline in the Salish Sea, west coast of Vancouver Island, and Columbia River Basin suggests the primary influence of a broad ocean driver (Beamish, 1993; Beamish & Bouillon, 1993; Mantua et al., 1997). The evidence for a roughly similar drop in Asian Chinook catches reviewed above also indicates that the geographic footprint of any ocean (or freshwater) driver must either be large or that many populations must migrate to common geographic regions where their survival can be similarly reduced.”

The Snake River Chinook populations are actually doing better than river systems with no dams or other human infrastructure, which they refer to as “anthropogenic freshwater habitat impacts.” In short, the conventional wisdom that habitat is the limiting factor is incorrect. The evidence suggests that especially the Snake River dams are having a minimal affect on salmon, particularly in comparison to rivers without dams. This study makes very clear a central point of this paper on misdiagnosis: removing dams would not improve salmon returns despite the very high cost:

“The recent recognition of the decline in Chinook returns across essentially all of Alaska and the Canadian portion of the Yukon River, where anthropogenic freshwater habitat impacts are negligible, is another example of how simple explanations are potentially flawed. If survival across this vast swathe of relatively pristine territory is severe enough to seriously impact salmon productivity, then there is little hope that modifying freshwater habitat in more southern regions will support a newly productive environment for salmon.”

“In fact, Snake River salmon are hardy during migration. They do as well or better than salmon on undammed rivers in the American West.”

2.2 Elwha returns disappointing after dam removal

The Washington Policy Center reported that salmon runs on the Elwha have been disappointing after the dams were removed. These dams were obsolete without the benefits and fish passage of the targeted Snake dams. The report:

“Salmon runs on the Elwha have been cited as evidence that dam removal yields guaranteed and near-term increases in population. Contrary to those claims, however, a decade of returns since the dams were removed indicates recovery is more complicated, even in a case like the Elwha where dam removal opened up a large stretch of habitat. It also makes clear that hatcheries will continue to play an important role in maintaining populations of salmon across the Northwest.”

The Elwha dam was removed in 2013. In those ten years Chinook has remained relatively stable and 2021 and 2022 levels were below ten year average. Those are substantially below the returns in the late 1980s when the dam was in place. The Seattle Times report showed Chinook returning but not accessing the habitat that was expected.

2.3 Latent mortality theory questioned by NOAA and other research

Latent mortality continues to be cited by dam removal advocates as a primary reason for removing the four lower Snake River dams. This is based on concerns about loss of smolts once they enter the ocean. The theory is that the stress of going through the dams weakens the young Chinook so they are unable to survive once they reach the ocean.

NOAA studied the issue and in 2019 reported that their investigation showed that passing through the dams was not the cause of “latent mortality”:

“Bypass systems are designed to carry juvenile salmon and steelhead around dam turbines on the Columbia and Snake rivers. The study found little evidence fish that go through these systems suffer delayed or “latent” mortality once they reach the estuary and ocean. Rather, they survive at about the same rate as fish that go through spillways and turbines.”

“The latent mortality theory—also known as delayed mortality—assumes that juvenile Columbia River salmon and steelhead suffer some kind of injury, stress or disorientation from traveling through the hydropower system that causes them to die later, in the estuary or ocean. The reason for their later death has never been determined. This research suggests that the juvenile bypass systems do not affect their survival.”

Port and shipping interests opposed to dam removal commissioned a study on latent mortality conducted by Mount Hood Environmental. Their results, perhaps to the dismay of the funders, concluded that there was indeed latent mortality, but the causes are not understood:

Until 2021 NOAA had widely promoted the success of fish survival and passage through dams. One example is the Baker Dam on the Skagit River. In 2014 NOAA said one million juvenile salmon had been transferred into Baker Lake from below the dam. In 2023 by mid-July about 30,000 sockeye had entered the lake. The success of fish passage is well documented by NOAA which suddenly changed its position after the Biden administration arrived. This raises serious questions about the credibility of the agency.

“‘We conclude that delayed mortality may be occurring in the ocean as a result of carryover effects from exposure to the Columbia River hydrosystem,’ they wrote in a 20-page paper. ‘However, mechanisms of delayed mortality are not well-defined, and the magnitude is unknown. Furthermore, it is unclear how removal of the lower Snake River dams would reduce hydrosystem-related delayed mortality because the mortality mechanism may be a function of broad-scale habitat changes caused by operation of the entire (Federal Columbia River Power System), not exposure to individual dams.’”

There appears to be an overlooked reason for this significant loss of young salmon when they reach the ocean from the rivers and streams where they were born. As noted in Section 4, in the Salish Sea alone harbor seals consume 24 million smolts each year. This very significant amount is likely, combined with ocean warming, to contribute to the ocean mortality uniquely affecting Chinook.

2.4 Fish passage through dams very successful –– example: Baker Dam

Until recently NOAA has consistently reported on the success of fish passage through dams. One example is the Baker Dam on the Skagit River in Northwest Washington: NOAA reported in 2014 that one million juvenile salmon had been transported over the Baker Dam.

“The Baker River basin in Washington State is home to many migratory fish species. Its annual adult sockeye salmon returns have averaged about 3,500 since the 1920s, but plunged to a low of just 99 fish in 1985, imperiling the stock. NOAA Fisheries, Puget Sound Energy, and others analyzed salmon habitat and migration and proposed engineering solutions.

Because conventional fish ladders are not suitable for the two tall dams on the river, a ‘trap and haul’ approach was implemented for upstream and downstream fish passage at this site. An innovative system built by Puget Sound Energy to safely collect, monitor, and transport migrating fish around the dams has been a success for upstream and downstream fish passage. The fish passage system has boosted downstream fish migration to more than 850,000 juvenile sockeye and close to one million total juvenile fish, including sockeye, coho, and Chinook salmon. Meanwhile, the project continues to produce hydropower to the grid and local communities.”

Electricity rate payers have paid $24 billion for fish passage on the Columbia and Snake River dams. It’s a great success story with fish passage higher on the lower Snake River dams than most others. This success story is lost in the advocacy and media reports claiming that Chinook and steelhead recovery depends on removing these dams. The facts show that removing the dams would cause great harm across the region and nation with very little impact on salmon recovery.

As of mid-July, 2023 nearly 30,000 sockeye were released into Baker Lake and fisheries set a limit of five per day.

2.5 Successful fish passage through four lower Snake River dams

 NOAA reported that fish passage through the lower Snake River dams was highly successful as reported by the Wall Street Journal:

“In the years since, however, the salmon population has rebounded thanks to improved fish ladders, which allow the fish passage around the dams. This is why NOAA said in 2008, and again in 2014, that it is no longer necessary to breach the Snake River dams. A 2020 report from the Energy Department and the Bonneville Power Administration (the federal agency that manages the electricity from dams on the Columbia River system) concluded that rebuilding salmon stocks didn’t require sacrificing electrical power.”

Capital Press reported on NOAA official’s commenting on success of fish passage. Quoting Ritchie Graves, Columbia Hydropower Branch chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

“‘Fish survival at the Snake River dams is better than most systems in the nation and world,’ NOAA’s Graves said. For each of the four dams, NOAA maintains a separate survival standard for juvenile salmon heading downstream. The agency wants 96% survival for yearling Chinook and steelhead, and 93% for “subyearling” Chinook less than a year old. The dams are achieving those performance standards, Graves said. For adult fish swimming upstream, the survival rate is above 90%.”

The 2020 report from NOAA shows that the lower Snake river dams are among the most modern and most updated of any West Coast dams providing fish passage for about 95% of the fish through the dams. The report comments that even rivers with no dams do not have 100% survival rates due to predation and river conditions.

Bonneville Power, the federal agency which operates the Columbia and Snake river dams, has spent $24 billion on fish passage according to the Seattle Times:

“The dams have helped power the growth of the region. But that economic engine has run at the expense of salmon, which continue to decline despite more than $24 billion in ratepayer money spent from 1980-2018 on improvements to fish passage at the dams and other recovery actions, according to the report.”

The comment that the economic benefits are “at the expense of salmon” demonstrates the reporters are either ignorant of or ignoring the facts about the effectiveness of fish passage and the real causes of salmon decline despite  readily available information. is a consortium of ten federal agencies working on salmon recovery. In 2015 they provided a report that showed the success of fish passage on the Snake and Columbia dams:

“Surface passage routes such as spillway weirs are yielding survival rates of 95 percent or better at every one of the eight federal dams on the lower Snake and Columbia Rivers.”

Section 3: Ocean warming and Chinook declines

Section 3.1 NOAA, Sierra Club and many studies point to ocean warming

As noted in the Misdiagnosis paper, ocean warming is likely the most significant factor hurting Chinook. But removing dams will do nothing to help this. 2022 saw a surprising increase in Chinook returns to the Snake river. Commenting on this, the Sierra Club appears to understand that ocean temperatures have a great impact on the fate of Chinook. They are wrong about the spillover effect according to NOAA, as shown below, but they are right about the impact of ocean temperatures:

Numerous studies and experts have pointed to ocean warming as a significant factor in Chinook decline, likely the most significant. The “blob” of warm water in the North Pacific in 2014-2015 and returning in 2019 related to significant decreases in Chinook abundance. While other species have flourished due to warming, Chinook salmon’s unique feeding habits make survival difficult in warmer ocean conditions. This factor, combined with excessive predation in the Salish Sea, are the primary reasons why Chinook recovery has proved so difficult.

“So far, 2022 has offered a brief reprieve for Snake River salmon. The runs are stronger than the dire numbers seen in previous years. This is likely thanks to a legal agreement that required federal agencies to spill water over the top of the dams starting in 2019, providing salmon with a safer migration route. Since salmon often spend a few years in the ocean, the fish now returning are the first that benefitted from the spillover agreement. This summer also saw slightly cooler ocean temperatures, which could have benefitted the fish.”

The Kintama study referenced in the paper also points to ocean warming as one of “broader oceanic factors” affecting salmon:

“Given the seemingly congruent decline in SARs to similar levels, the notion that contemporary survival is driven primarily by broader oceanic factors rather than local factors should be considered.”

NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in 2020 published an important document called “Questions and Answers on Columbia Basin salmon, Snake River dams and Southern Resident killer whales.” It shows major jumps in salmon returns to the Columbia basin which includes all the Columbia and Snake river dams. Importantly, it shows that ocean conditions, not dams, are the primary factor influencing salmon mortality:

“The last 10 years have seen some of the highest salmon returns to the Columbia Basin since Bonneville and other dams were built and, more recently, some of the lowest. Those fluctuations demonstrate that salmon numbers do not increase or decrease in a straight line, but vary widely depending primarily on ocean conditions and other environmental factors. The ocean is the ‘source of the most important and highly variable mortality’ in the salmon life-cycle, according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Independent Scientific Advisory Board.”

“NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center used life-cycle models to predict climate effects on Chinook salmon throughout their life stages by studying one distinct Chinook salmon population. For example, the projections from the model predict that Snake River spring/summer Chinook salmon populations could decline over the next several years from climate change impacts. This may be due to an increase in ocean temperature, and variations in flow and temperatures in freshwater systems. Recent heat events, which caused changes in salmon populations, may indicate what could happen as the ocean becomes warmer. A marine heatwave from 2014 to 2015 raised ocean temperatures, and salmon returns decreased coastwide.”

The ocean is the “source of the most important and highly variable mortality” in the salmon life-cycle, according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Independent Scientific Advisory Board.

“Cold-water fish subjected to warm water face a disruption in their normal body functions, reducing the size of the fish and increasing the risk of death. Warm water also can reduce the overall production in the food web, making it more difficult for fish to find suitable prey.”

Numerous studies have pointed out the harm that the warm water “blob” in the North Pacific has caused. Chinook in particularly appear to be affected by warm ocean temperatures which likely affect their food supply. The Pacific Sound Institute notes that a recent University of British Columbia study alarmingly calculates this will have a greater impact on salmon than previously thought:

“The higher estimates of population declines were calculated by researchers at the University of British Columbia, who took into account occasional “marine heat waves” that can play havoc with the ecosystem. A recent example is the warm-water event known as the “blob,” which included ocean temperatures up to 7 degrees above average (Fahrenheit) during a two-year period beginning in 2014.”

The report about salmon abundance included in Section 1.1 included this information about ocean temperatures which benefit some species but harms others, primarily Chinook:

“This research found that a 1.5°C increase in SST was associated with a 23% increase in sockeye productivity in the Bering Sea, a 9% productivity increase in the Gulf of Alaska, but with a 12% decline in productivity in the southern region (British Columbia and Southeast Alaska). Frequent heatwaves likely contributed to the growing abundance of pink salmon in the north while also contributing to a northward shift in the adverse effects of high SST on production of other salmon species.”

A science report in early August, 2023 noted the cooling of the Pacific Ocean. While this may contribute to drought according to the study, it will be interesting to see if this continues and the potential positive impact on Chinook.

Federal legislation in the 1970s protected marine mammals including harbor seals and sea lions. Congress could not have anticipated what happened in the Salish Sea. Southern Residents, unlike other killer whales, do not feed on harbor seals and leave them to feast on their preferred food: Chinook smolts. A study led by a NOAA scientist showed that 84% of all the Chinook consumed by harbor seals are in the Salish Sea. The 24 million Chinook consumed, combined with ocean warming uniquely harming Chinook, are the primary challenges to Chinook recovery.

Section 4: Predation and Chinook decline

Section 4.1 NOAA Chasco study documents predation by protected mammals specific to Salish Sea

Predation by marine mammals is a significant factor in Chinook declines. Killer whales consume the most Chinook measured in biomass. The orca population has more than doubled in the past forty years while the Chinook population has struggled due to ocean conditions. But the greatest impact by far affecting Chinook in Northwest Washington is harbor seal predation in the Salish Sea. It is the single most important factor that can be addressed by concerted public action and political policy.

The National Marine Mammal Protection Act passed in 1972 had the unintended consequence of an exploding population of pinnipeds ––harbor seals and sea lions. The impact of these on salmon has been devastating, particularly in the Salish Sea. The study quoted below reports that of all the Chinook consumed by harbor seals from Alaska to California, an astounding 86.4% are consumed in the Salish Sea alone!

A team of fisheries scientists led by NOAA’s Brandon Chasco published an important study on the impact of pinnipeds on salmon from Alaska to California. Called “Competing tradeoffs between increasing marine mammal predation and fisheries harvest of Chinook salmon” published in, the study showed that smolt production had nearly doubled from 1975 to 2015, but that this increase was met by a dramatic increase in predators. This includes orcas which have seen numbers more than double, except for the threatened Southern Resident pod. Killer whales increased from 292 to 644 whales and consumed the largest amount of the Chinook biomass, up to 11,000 metric tons.

Southern Resident killer whales have suffered compared to other populations in large part because they are “picky eaters” as one prominent marine biologist said, choosing only the largest Chinook. Unlike Northern and transient killer whales, they do not target harbor seals. While the increase in orcas in other areas has helped keep seal population under control, by eating only Chinook Southern Residents are losing out to their primary food competitors. The report states that predators including killer whales and seals consumed 31.5 million Chinook of all ages, a 600% increase. While harbor seal numbers have increased overall, by far the greatest increase is in the Salish Sea. This has a very large impact on Chinook in the area where Southern Residents depend on for food. Here is a concise summary of relevant predation:

A study led by a NOAA scientist showed that 86.4% of all the Chinook consumed by harbor seals are in the Salish Sea. The 24 million Chinook consumed, combined with ocean warming uniquely harming Chinook, are the primary challenges to Chinook recovery.

Chinook salmon biomass consumed by the marine mammal predators was estimated to have increased steadily over the entire study period [1975 to 2015] from 6,100 to 15,200 metric tons . The estimated increase in predation was directly related to increasing predator abundance used in our model. Killer whales increased from 292 to 644 individual resident killer whales, harbor seals increased from 210,000 to 355,000, California sea lions increased from 5,900 to 47,000, and Steller sea lions increased from 74,400 to 78,500. Killer whales consumed the most Chinook salmon biomass (from 5,400 metric tons in 1975 to 10,900 metric tons in 2015), followed by harbor seals (400 to 2,500 metric tons), Steller sea lions (300 to 1,200 metric tons), and California sea lions (50 to 600 metric tons). Numerically, the predator consumption increased from 5 to 31.5 million individual Chinook salmon of varying ages. This was largely driven by increased consumption by harbor seals (from 3.5 million to 27.4 million individual Chinook salmon), followed by killer whales (1.3 to 2.6 million), California sea lions (0.1 to 0.7 million), and Steller sea lions (0.1 to 0.7 million).

Harbor seals from Alaska to California consume 27 million Chinook. But most of that consumption of Chinook salmon is in the Salish Sea:

“Harbor seals in the Salish Sea (i.e. Puget Sound, Strait of Georgia, and Strait of San Juan de Fuca) accounted for 86.4% of the total coast wide smolt consumption in 2015, due to large increases in the harbor seal abundance in this region between 1975 and 2015 (8,600 to 77,800).”

4.2 Congressional action allows removal of predators harming salmon

Public outcry against the very visible predation by California and Stellers sea lions feeding on salmon near Bonneville dam led to Congress in 2018 authorizing limited lethal removal. The sea lions were responsible for eating 3112 salmon, about 2% to 4% of the salmon and steelhead run through the dam. It is remarkable that the focus has been on these predators when it is documented by NOAA research that harbor seals in the Salish Sea (inland waters between Seattle and Vancouver, BC) are a much bigger problem and a primary reason for Chinook decline.

Tribal leaders have been calling for attention to be paid to the predation issue in the Salish Sea for some time. In the March 10, 2022 issue of “Being Frank” published by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Chairman Ed Johnstone noted the sea lions eating salmon are not a native species but migrated here to consume salmon. He calls sea lions and harbor seals an “invasive species” protected by federal law. He notes that while tribal fisheries have been reduced by 80 to 90%, the seals and sea lions are taking six times more salmon in the Puget Sound and Olympic coast than tribal and non-tribal fisheries combined.

The Washington Policy Center, a policy research organization in Washington State concluded:

“… it makes little sense to refuse to take effective and low-cost steps like reducing pinniped populations while advocating for spending tens of millions on habitat restoration, or tens of billions on destroying dams.”

Section 5: Federal Environmental Impact Statement 2020

The three federal agencies responsible for the operation of the dams on the Columbia and Snake river system are the Army Corp of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration. These were charged with conducting an in-depth study of the 14 dams called the Columbia River System Operations (CRSO). The final Environmental Impact Statement was issued in July 2020.

The complete EIS is available here:

The Little Goose Dam is one of four Snake River dams targeted for removal by advocates. The four dams provide extremely important transportation and power benefits to the entire region. The cost of removal and replacement would exceed the $30 billion suggested, likely by billions. But, as the science studies provided here show, it would not result in any significant recovery of the endangered Chinook salmon.

The study evaluated six alternatives which included removing the lower Snake river dams. All agencies agreed on what they called the Preferred Alternative which provided for enhanced fish passage, support for tribal concerns and continued operation of the dams.

It is significant that NOAA through NOAA Fisheries, also called National Marine Fisheries Service, was involved in the study providing a BiOP, or biological opinion. As a result of this input, Bonneville was specific in their statement of support for the Preferred Alternative about improving fisheries mitigation measures. The BiOP did not include any statement reflecting the now widely publicized NOAA statement stating that the lower Snake dams must be removed for salmon. This is important in the discussion below (Section 7.1) about the politicization of science reflected in NOAA’s dramatically changed position on the dams.

NOAA’s support for the Preferred Alternative leaving the dams in place with enhanced mitigation efforts was noted in some press reports, including this one from Oregon Public Broadcasting. The report stated:

“(The EIS) finds an appropriate balance between the environmental needs as well as the socio-economic needs of the region,” Matt Rabe, a spokesperson with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said. “The preferred alternative would allow for more spill over several dams as juvenile salmon migrate out to sea and less power is needed on the grid. It also includes structural changes to some dams to help salmon, steelhead and lamprey passage.”

It also noted that the report showed if the dams were removed it would result in a 25% increase in electricity prices in the Northwest. The EIS study began in 2016 and included review of over 59,000 public comments. The final report listed the various key stakeholder groups directly involved:

“The agencies conferred with tribes, public interest groups, the Northwest’s Congressional delegation and governors, as well as stakeholder groups, and Federal, state and local public service agencies. The co-lead agencies also closely read, considered, and responded to the public comments which represented diverse voices with numerous perspectives. The agencies considered the effects of making this decision, and sought to provide a balanced approach and the flexibility needed to continue operations and maintenance of the CRS in this dynamic environment”.

“The Preferred Alternative endeavors to provide the most balanced way to fulfill all of the CRS projects’ congressionally authorized purposes, meets a majority of the CRSO EIS objectives, minimizes and avoids adverse impacts to the environment, benefits tribal interests and treaty resources, and provides additional improvements for ESA-listed species.

“The Preferred Alternative assures safe, healthful, productive, and esthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings by maintaining current riparian habitat, for example, while providing safe and reliable power generation. The Preferred Alternative supports the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment, without appreciable degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable or unintended consequences by providing flood risk management, power generation and reliability, navigation, and fish and wildlife conservation, including improvements to fish survival, water supply, and irrigation.”

Statement by federal agencies on unanimous agreement to leave dams in place.

The Preferred Alternative assures safe, healthful, productive, and esthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings by maintaining current riparian habitat, for example, while providing safe and reliable power generation. The Preferred Alternative supports the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment, without appreciable degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable or unintended consequences by providing flood risk management, power generation and reliability, navigation, and fish and wildlife conservation, including improvements to fish survival, water supply, and irrigation. Commercial and tribal fishing in the lower Columbia and lower Snake rivers would improve over the No Action Alternatives. There would be fewer effects to cultural resources and improvements to tribal fisheries. The Preferred Alternative includes fish passage improvements, creating some job loss and potential higher power rates, as compared to the No Action Alternative. The agencies would monitor for potential shoaling at projects for unintended effects to navigation, resident fish, and anadromous adult fish passage at certain fish passage projects; this is included as mitigation.

Effects to cultural resources will continue, but would be mitigated through the FCRPS Cultural Resource Program. Viewed with respect to “the interrelations of all components of the natural environment,”9 the Preferred Alternative is deemed the environmentally preferable alternative based on its wide benefits to the environment, and the minor adverse effects compared to the other alternatives analyzed.”

Section 6: High cost of ineffective solutions 

In the Misdiagnosis paper a number of ineffective and potentially damaging solutions to Chinook decline were mentioned. These include:

  • Removing the four lower Snake river dams
  • Converting up to 30% of Western Washington farmland into massive habitat buffers
  • Restricting or eliminating irrigation water for farmers

Extensive information from multiple sources is available. Here we highlight some of the most relevant costs for each of these solutions.

6.1 Dams: Costs of removing four lower Snake river dams

In August 2022 Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Patty Murray issued a report on removing the dams titled “Lower Snake River Dams: Benefit Replacement Report.” The final report can be accessed here:

A brief version with their recommendations can be found here:

Both leaders have been adamant in their support for removing the dams, a position strongly reflected in their report and summary of recommendations. However, there was also a somewhat realistic assessment of the high cost of benefit replacement and mitigation. The Recommendations document included this in bold type:

“…we are adamant that in any circumstance where the Lower Snake River Dams would be breached, the replacement and mitigation of their benefits must be pursued before decommissioning and breaching.”

“…we are adamant that in any circumstance where the Lower Snake River Dams would be breached, the replacement and mitigation of their benefits must be pursued before decommissioning and breaching.”

Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Patty Murray

The total cost estimate from the report:

“Even as we pursue these matters, we know that the cost associated with the replacement of the Lower Snake Dams is enormous, over any timeframe. The independent consultant’s report estimates breaching costs of between $10 billion and $31 billion, with many anticipated costs still not available, meaning it will be necessary to refine our understanding of how to optimize these investments.”

With the numerous comments and critiques offered after the report was issued, including the severe underestimation of impacts on farms as noted in Section 6.3, it is likely that the costs would significantly exceed $31 billion. The report shows that the cost of removing the dams and restoring river habitat would significantly exceed $2 billion.

Bonneville Power Administration provided a separate assessment of costs of dam removal focused on energy generation:

News reports reflect the orientation (or bias) of the reporting on the Murray-Inslee report. For example, the while the Seattle Times report focused on the strong support expressed by Murray and Inslee for removing the dams to recover salmon.

6.2 Dams: Replacing power produced by dams

Dam advocates suggest that the four dams targeted produce little power and that it can easily be replaced by new green energy sources such as wind and solar. One of many examples is the statement below from the NW Energy Coalition, a dam removal group. The facts do not bear this out. The federal EIS shows that:

“to breach the dams and maintain the current level of grid stability it would need to add 1,960 megawatts of additional solar resources and 980 megawatts of battery storage.

The four dams targeted for removal can provide up to 3000 megawatts of power but to replace them in the electrical system with solar and wind, as many have proposed, would cost $6.6 billion including batteries. It would be far more likely this power would be replaced with fossil fuels meaning that a major carbon-free energy source would be replaced with natural gas with contributions to climate change. Bonneville Power states that to replace the power produced by the dams would require over 5000 MW of solar, raising the cost to more like $10 billion for carbon-free replacement.

This is only one of many costs related to dam removal. Estimates range from $10 to over $30 billion but all agree much is unknown so costs are likely to be considerably higher.

The People’s Utility District of Northern Wasco County (Oregon) commented:

“The four dams on the Snake River power up to 800,000 homes while producing zero carbon emissions and delivering power around the clock year-round. Wind and solar cannot replace that steady power because the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine.
The least-polluting steady power replacement would be natural gas—a fossil fuel. A 2015 BPA reliability analysis concluded replacement of the lower Snake dams with highly efficient natural gas generation would increase the region’s carbon dioxide emissions by 2.0 to 2.6 million metric tons annually. At the low end, this would be the equivalent of adding 421,000 passenger cars to the region’s roads each year.”

Dam removal advocates and opponents cite different studies on the impact on power generation if the dams are removed. An example is this report from the Spokesman Review: