OPALCO should reconsider dam stance | Guest column

Submitted by Elisabeth Robson

I hope that Orcas Power and Light Cooperative will decide to rescind its resolution to oppose the removal of the Lower Snake River Dams at the upcoming board meeting on Jan. 23.

As I wrote to the board late last year, the lower Snake River dams are not “clean energy” despite OPALCO’s insistence on calling them such in the resolution. Aside from killing rivers, dams prevent fish passage — as we have learned. The efforts of various agencies to try to mitigate for the loss of salmon and other fish in these rivers have cost billions of dollars and has utterly failed. Hatchery fish have different genetics than wild fish and are contaminating the wild fish genetic pool. Returns of fish have dropped precipitously.

Dams trap sediments, slow water, warm the temperature, reduce dissolved oxygen, alter a river’s flow, destroy riparian corridors — I could go on. How anyone can describe this as clean is beyond me.

The statement in the resolution that “hydropower produces no emissions” is absolutely false. Dams are the largest single anthropogenic source of methane, being responsible for 23 percent of all methane emissions due to human activities. Methane is a much more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide. The most recent assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that methane has a warming impact 72 times higher than carbon dioxide if measured over 20 years, and 25 times higher measured over 100 years. Using these IPCC “global warming potential” estimates means that one year’s methane emissions from large dams are estimated to have a global warming impact over 100 years equal to that of 2.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

The resolution further states that the dams enable irrigation for seven million acres of farmland. In case you haven’t heard, industrial agriculture is responsible for 13 percent of global CO2 emissions, making the agriculture sector the world’s second-largest emitter behind the energy sector.

The right solution to energy and agriculture is to dramatically and rapidly reduce our energy requirements, transition to regenerative agriculture in places that receive adequate rainfall places that are local to markets, and eliminate global trade in agricultural products. I realize that OPALCO is not going to be able to do any of those things, but supporting the removal of the dams would send a powerful message that our current high-energy lifestyles with year-round global food distribution cannot continue, no matter how we “power” those lives. OPALCO could support the removal of these dams while finding ways to support local low-energy lifestyles and local food production in San Juan County.

Opposing the removal of the Lower Snake River Dams is a position that is on the wrong side of history. For San Juan County it is the Salish Sea and the next generation of people who live here who will suffer the grave consequences if these dams are not removed.