Study: Dam breaching would cause economic and environmental harm, exacerbating challenges facing underserved communities

Study: Dam breaching would cause economic and environmental harm, exacerbating challenges facing underserved communities

Lower-income, agricultural communities will be hurt more by job loss, tax revenue loss, air quality, transportation impacts, and more

Breaching the Lower Snake River Dams would impact some of the Northwest’s most vulnerable people, causing job loss, impacts to public services, air quality degradation, and more, according to a recent report.

The Pacific Northwest Waterways Association’s (PNWA) Inland Ports and Navigation Group (IPNG) funded the evaluation, performed by independent public sector consultant FCS Group. FCS evaluated the 12 counties in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho most directly impacted by the loss of barge transportation due to dam breaching. Compared to the national average, these counties already experience higher disability rates, increased poverty, lower income levels, and higher asthma rates. In a tri-state region that includes over 350,000 people and 90,000 jobs, the study demonstrates that existing economic and social justice concerns will grow exponentially should dam breaching occur.

“The federal system of navigation locks and hydroelectric dams on the Snake River doesn’t just provide power, irrigation, and barging,” said PNWA Policy Advisor Heather Stebbings. “It puts people to work and food on the table pays for roads, schools, and other public services, reduces emissions, and helps improve environmental health for hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom are among our most vulnerable. They deserve a voice and a seat at the table in the discussion around the future of these dams and the Columbia Snake River System.”

When incorporating data from the White House Climate Justice Tool, the study specifically demonstrates that the region is already suffering from higher rates of unemployment, poverty, energy cost burdens, risk of natural hazards (such as fire), asthma, and travel barriers. The communities in the study area are nearly 10 times more dependent on agriculture than the national average, including 7,700 farms that generate $2 billion in annual sales and represent 15% of the regional workforce. The loss of barge transport and irrigation from the Snake River is likely to bankrupt many of these farms, resulting in employment and wage loss that would lead to reduced tax revenue and services, including schools, clean drinking water, safe roads, robust emergency services, and much more. And without barging on the river, agricultural exports move to truck and rail, increasing transportation and food costs, crowding an already congested transportation system, requiring 5 million more gallons of diesel each year, and increasing CO2 and other harmful emissions by 1.2 million tons. This is the same emissions as 181,000 passenger cars or adding one new large coal-fired power plant every 2-3 years.

“Some may downplay the true consequences of dam removal on our communities, but the profound and rippling repercussions cannot be understated,” said Stebbings. “This comprehensive economic impact analysis underscores that dam breaching would place a substantial burden on our region, including for the folks that are already struggling.”

“Our group represents the growers, irrigators, and shippers of the food and raw materials so many rely on here in the Northwest and across the world,” Stebbings continued. “It is important to support the communities in our region that rely on the transportation, irrigation, and clean power provided by our river system. These communities are not disposable, and they need to be considered in the effort to provide a balanced approach to salmon recovery in the Northwest.”

About FCS Group

FCS Group, established in 1988, provides independent and objective utility rate and fee consulting, utility management consulting, financial planning and analysis, and economic services to public sector clients, inclusive of city and county governments, municipal corporations, ports, special purpose districts, and state agencies.

Click here to view the released study.

The Pacific Northwest Waterways Association is a non-profit, non-partisan trade association of ports, businesses, public agencies and individuals who support navigation, energy, trade and economic development throughout the region. Learn more at