The majority of Northwest residents polled in a survey commissioned by Northwest RiverPartners said they oppose removing the four Snake River dams in eastern Washington.
The findings, released Tuesday, are in contrast to survey results released in October by Washington Conservation Voters that found widespread support in Washington state for removing the four dams to help salmon.
The newest survey concluded that residents polled in Washington, Oregon and Idaho supported retaining the dams — when asked in connection with the hydropower they produced.
Some 60 percent of 1,200 people polled said they supported the use of hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River to produce electricity. That included 68 percent of the Idaho residents polled, 61 percent of the Washington residents polled and 55 percent of the Oregon residents surveyed.
Those opposing the four hydroelectric dams accounted for 17 percent of those polled, including 18 percent of Idaho and Oregon residents and 17 percent of Washington residents.
A total of 23 percent of those polled said they were undecided.
“Today’s survey results ultimately demonstrate that Pacific Northwest residents understand the integral role hydropower plays in supporting our clean energy grid and fish recovery and our policy leaders should take note,” said Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners.
Northwest RiverPartners is a nonprofit with members that include electric utility customers, farmers and businesses that benefit from the dams.
“With national inflation now hitting a 30-year high and soaring energy prices, affordable access to hydropower is more critical than ever when it comes to achieving our region’s ambitious decarbonization and economic justice goals,” Miller said.
Some 43 percent of those polled said they were concerned that removing the Snake River dams would increase electricity costs. Respondents were allowed to pick two areas of concern.
Dams and ag, clean energy
Some 35 percent said they were concerned about losing a carbon-free source of energy, and 29 percent said they were concerned about impacts on agriculture.
The dams are needed to barge wheat and other farm products, including for export across the Pacific Ocean, and they help some farmers with irrigation water.
In addition, 20 percent of respondents said they were concerned about impacts on rural communities and on low-income communities.
That was followed by 12 percent worried about increased blackouts and 10 percent concerned about impacts on small businesses in the areas of the dams.
The dams include Ice Harbor Dam near the Tri-Cities upriver to Lower Granite Dam near Lewiston.
A minority of respondents, 29 percent, agreed with a statement that dams on the lower Snake River are a “major source of problems for wild salmon, orcas and other animals. We should make the decision to remove the dams to protect animals and their habitats.”
The survey suggests that support for the lower Snake River Dams is bipartisan and geographically diverse, with both metro and rural resident indicating high levels of support, according to Northwest RiverPartners.
A majority of both Republicans and also Democrats surveyed in each of the three states said they supported the hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River.
That included 63 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of Republicans in Washington; 71 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans in Idaho; and 52 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of Republicans in Oregon.
In Washington, 61 percent of those polled in King County, home to Seattle, said they supported the dams. In eastern Washington 68 percent of those polled supported the dams.
The poll results were released less than a week after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued a policy brief on saving salmon, outline plans ranging from restoring salmon habitat to addressing predation on salmon.
It called for identifying whether there are reasonable means for replacing the benefits of the four dams should they be removed, which would be a federal decision.
In October, Inslee and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced a joint federal and state process to see if there are reasonable means to replace the benefits of the lower Snake River dams.
It followed a similar proposal early this year by U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, to spend $33 billion to breach the four lower Snake River dams. The money would cover dismantling the earthen portions of the dams to let water flow freely, building new energy and transportation systems and addressing the economic impact of the loss of the dams.
Political efforts to remove the lower Snake River dams should be informed by the latest survey results, Northwest RiverPartners said.
Dams and salmon survey
The survey was conducted by DHM Research, which describes itself as independent and nonpartisan, from July 26 to Aug. 3.
The survey of Washington residents with results released in October was done by the The Mellman Group and paid for by the Water Foundation, based in California. It focused on benefits to salmon rather than the production of low-cost electricity.
The survey polled 800 residents of Washington, with 58 percent of them saying they want businesses, scientists, farmers, tribes and communities to cooperate on a plan to remove the lower Snake River dams.
In the Seattle area, 63 percent of those surveyed supported removing the dams, compare to 47 percent in eastern Washington, according to the The Mellman Group.