Ice Harbor Dam

Ice Harbor Dam, one of four dams on the lower Snake River.

A new survey commissioned by Northwest RiverPartners indicates broad public support for keeping the Snake River dams.

Less than 30% of respondents favor removing the four dams.

The survey, conducted by DHM Research, an independent and nonpartisan research firm in Portland, reached a total of 1,200 Northwest residents — 400 each in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

According to the survey, 60% of respondents indicate support for “the use of hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River to produce electricity” while 17% oppose it, and 23% don’t know.

Only 29% of respondents agreed that the dams should be removed to protect wild animals and their habitats. The rest opposed removal or didn’t know, according to the survey, which did not indicate the percentages for other answers.

Asked to rank their top concerns about removing the dams, respondents most often highlighted higher electricity costs, losing a source of carbon-free energy and impacts on agriculture.

About 14% said they had no concerns about the potential removal of the dams.

Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, told the Capital Press he wasn’t sure what to expect prior to commissioning the survey.

“I was definitely pleased with the results,” Miller said of the survey. “I was heartened, gratified to see that.”

He pointed to messaging from advocacy groups and media attention surrounding Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson’s proposed plan for dam breaching and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray’s federal-state assessment of salmon recovery, including dam breaching, as reasons for his uncertainty.

“People are being told that their neighbors essentially support dam breaching, and I don’t think that’s the case,” he said. “It’s important for the public to know it’s only a smaller minority that believes this would be good policy for the Pacific Northwest.”

Miller hopes policy makers such as Inslee and Murray pay attention to the survey’s findings.

“We want to find the most productive ways of helping salmon without harming society,” he said. “If we’re concerned about the will of the people, it’s certainly the will of the people to keep the dams in place.”

Miller believes the survey results show residents understand the energy challenges ahead, citing 100% clean energy objectives, initiatives for electric cars and other forms of transportation and the loss of fossil-fuel resources such as coal and natural gas generation plants.

“I think what people see there is that resources that are carbon-free and can produce electricity 24-7 are going to be really important in the region’s future,” he said. “I think people can do the math.”

Efforts to breach the dams, especially Inslee’s and Murray’s proposed initiative, represent a “significant clear and present danger” to the future of the dams, and eventually the entire hydropower system, Miller said.

“A lot of the arguments that are made in favor of breaching the lower Snake River dams are often not based on complete information, or even (based on) inaccurate information,” he said. “Our concern is that those same questionable arguments will be applied to other dams if these dams go.”

Northwest RiverPartners serves not-for-profit, community-owned electric utilities in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada and Wyoming and represents partners that support clean energy, low-carbon transportation and agricultural jobs.

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