Thursday, December 16, 2010

Revisioning the lower Snake River

Graduate students with Washington State University (WSU) and University of Idaho unveiled their “Future Directions for the Snake River, Dams and Regional Transportation,” visions of a lower Snake River landscape without dams at the Sage Bakery in Lewiston, ID last week. 

Professor Jolie Kaytes’ Landscape Design class spent the semester meeting with stakeholders, touring and lower Snake River and consulting with experts to develop designs on how the lower Snake River could look in the future with agriculture, modern transportation and local communities thriving along a restored river.

The students this fall were the second group to imagine a future Snake River.  Last year’s class explored ideas for the Snake River waterfront in Clarkston/Lewiston.  Designs focused on reconnecting the historic downtown with the river, utilizing reclaimed riverfront lands for public markets, recreation, tourism and commerce. 

This year's designs were unveiled at an evening reception at Sage Bakery.  The students’ work will remain on the walls through the end of January 2011, in conjunction with a gallery of historic photos of the lower Snake River, showing what the river looked like before dams and could look like again.  

This year’s designs focused on the stretch of river from Pasco, WA to Central Ferry upstream from Little Goose dam.  Modern rail depots facilitating transport of crops and people, free-flowing river recreation, restored Native-American lands, and abundant salmon were featured.  Some designs focused on the values at stake and needs of farmers, local communities, and salmon-dependent communities, while another design suggested how the region can seize an opportunity for stakeholder dialogue to create a future that includes a restored river while meeting the needs of farmers, fishermen and local towns.

"The students’ projects address and reveal the complex relationships among organisms, locale, the built environment, ideologies, and time,” said Jolie Kaytes, the course instructor and associate professor of landscape architecture at WSU. “They employ design strategies that require us to broadly reflect on values, energy, edge, transport, recreation, farming, community, power, sustenance, soil, settlement, and salmon.

“Ultimately, the students’ projects challenge us to reexamine how we see and understand the region, to continually review, in the multiple senses of that word, the Snake River Basin and what it means
to be a citizen of this landscape,” she said.

Stop by and check out the students’ work.  Sage Bakery is located at 1303 Main Street in Lewiston.  Stay tuned for showings of the designs in Spokane, Seattle and other locations in 2011.   Designs from the previous class are available for viewing here at Working Snake River's website.

For more information go to:
And stay tuned for closer looks at these landscape designs soon...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Winds of Change are coming to the Lower Snake River Basin

Turbine Tower Truck, courtesy of PSE
Creating carbon-free energy, good jobs and healthy communities – and further diminishing the need for 4 dams on the lower Snake.

Puget Sound Energy (PSE), a Northwest-based power utility is in the midst of expanding its wind turbine facilities in the wind-rich lower Snake River drainage in southeast Washington State, just a stone’s throw (OK, a long throw) from the salmon-killing lower Snake River dams. Is it providence or merely coincidence?

PSE’s Lower Snake River Wind Project will build on existing nearby wind facilities, Hopkins Ridge and Marengo – expanding the Pacific Northwest’s truly clean energy by 343 MW.  In addition to the numerous benefits associated with increasing our supply of domestic, carbon-free, salmon-friendly energy, these projects also contribute significant benefits by creating short and long-term jobs locally, generating income for local landowners, and increasing local tax revenues – all things we need more of these days!

PSE reports on a number of these economic benefits from the Hopkins Ridge and Marengo wind facilities, which represent a combined 204 wind turbines with 367 megawatts (MW) of capacity.

PSE found that:
• Construction of these Columbia County wind facilities created $2.3 million annually in labor income
• Operation of these facilities contributes $3.5 million annually in labor income
• Construction of these facilities created 190 direct and indirect jobs
• Operation of these facilities created 55 direct and indirect jobs
• These facilities paid more than $900,000 in taxes in 2008, reducing the tax burden on individual property owners.

PSE also looked at the economic impact of wind on a per-MW basis, and found, for example, that operation of these facilities results in $10,000 in annual income per MW. The new Lower Snake Wild Project being installed as we speak will provide more of the same - Local Jobs. Income. Tax revenues. Carbon-free energy. No harm to salmon.

Northwest wind and other renewable sources of energy are no longer an energy source for the future. It’s here now. We are building it, using it in-region, and exporting it out of region. Unplugging ourselves from the energy of the lower Snake River dams and replacing their limited transportation and energy benefits with alternatives is feasible, affordable, and will provide long-term benefits for our region – healthy salmon populations, good jobs in energy, transportation and outdoor recreation, taxpayer savings, and restored habitat and parklands for hunting, fishing, hiking and boating along 140 miles of the lower Snake River.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WSU: Future directions for Snake River, dams envisioned

Little Goose Dam, a revision. Illustration by Stephen Ulman, courtesy WSU.

Little Goose Dam, current. Illustration by Stephen Ulman, courtesy WSU.
By Brian Clark, WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences

PULLMAN - Landscape architecture, design and education graduate students from Washington State University and the University of Idaho will present their visions for the Lower Snake River Basin, Dec. 9-Jan. 31 at the Sage Baking Company, 1303 Main St., Lewiston. The opening reception will be 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9.

Snake River reView showcases the design work of graduate students in the course “Cultural Interpretations of the Regional Landscape.” During the course, students studied the connections between people and place in the basin and the ways these connections are affected by and affect the Lower Snake River dams.

“The students’ projects address and reveal the complex relationships among organisms, locale, the built environment, ideologies and time,” said Jolie Kaytes, the course instructor and associate professor of landscape architecture at WSU. “They employ design strategies that require us to broadly reflect on values, energy, edge, transport, recreation, farming, community, power, sustenance, soil, settlement and salmon.

Read more from WSU Today.
Take a look at "Water Views" - lower Snake River revisioning designs from 2009-2010. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Upcoming Elwha River Dam Removal: more salmon, more jobs, more food, and lessons for the future

Question: What do imperiled orcas and salmon, the S’Klallam tribe, fishermen, and residents of the Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula have in common right now?

Answer: Their shared anticipation about the upcoming removal of two large dams on the Elwha River that originates in the heart of the Olympic National Park. There are plenty of benefits to go around: a free-flowing Elwha River will mean not only a lot more salmon, but also jobs and economic activity. Elwha dam removal is a job-creator. In addition, this success on the Elwha holds important lessons for other dam removal efforts in the region – including on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington.

Today’s cause for celebration began more than two decades ago with a then-controversial proposal introduced by members of the S’Klallam Tribe living on the banks of the Elwha River. But everything has changed today. Preparations for dam removal – the nation’s largest to date – are already well under way. Concrete will start coming down in September, with a freely flowing Elwha River river by March 2014.

The Elwha once teemed with salmon. It was particularly famous for its “hogs” – 100-pound chinook salmon. But it was also one of those rare Northwest rivers that was home to all five types of Pacific salmon – chinook, coho, chum, pink, and sockeye, as well as steelhead. It was a quintessential salmon river - until two dams were constructed on it a century ago. The 70+ miles of perfect rivers and streams were completely cut off just four miles from the ocean. The promised fish ladders were never installed and the salmon devastated.

The Elwha River and Glines Canyon Dams are 108 feet and 210 feet in height, respectively. One of the big challenges in this removal process is sediment. Tremendous amounts of sediment have been deposited behind both dams that will be flushed out to the estuary as the dams are removed. This has both an upside and a downside.

The estuary at the mouth of the river has been literally starved of sediments for the last century. Restoring natural sediment deliveries from a free-flowing Elwha River will provide huge habitat benefits in the estuary. However, until this massive pulse of sediment has moved through the river system starting next fall, there will be negative, albeit temporary, habitat impacts.

River Restoration = Job Creation

A restored Elwha is expected to once again support 300,000 salmon and steelhead in just 15 – 20 years, making S’Klallam tribal members, fishermen, and endangered orcas in desperate need of more chinook very, very happy. And it is also creating a lot of much-needed jobs in both the near and long-term. Planning, mitigation projects, dam removal, and habitat restoration – will create hundreds of new local jobs. In the longer-term, a restored river and healthy salmon runs will support roughly 2,000 local jobs in sectors like fishing, guide services, gear sales, and different types of outdoor recreation and tourism.

Nearly thirty years ago, when this conversation about removing the two dams on the Elwha got started, the idea was controversial. But over the years, as safety concerns mounted, as stakeholders sat down and talked about what they would need if the dams were removed, a plan was crafted that led to Congressional authorization and funding to remove the dams and meet the needs of local people and communities.

The restoration of the Elwha River is a huge win for the people of Washington State and the nation. Starting in 2011, SOS will be tracking the progress of this important project and writing about its history and lessons, its people and the place, the costs and the anticipated benefits in terms of jobs, fishing opportunity, orca survival, and salmon recovery.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Exxon's long-term plans revealed

from the desk of Sam Mace:
Mega-load shipments begin moving into the Northwest

Mega-loads like this thing have started moving into the Northwest

Local citizens, businesses and conservationists continue to fight Big Oil’s plans to ship mining equipment up our salmon rivers and scenic highways to the Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada. It is arguably one of the most environmentally destructive activities on the planet.  Tar sands mining in Canada is destroying rivers, water quality, boreal forest, and fisheries, and affecting climate change.  Recently, over 40 regional and national organizations wrote a letter urging Northwest members of Congress to provide oversight on this project. Read the letter here.

The issue has recently been covered in the New York Times: "Oil Sands Effort Turns on a Fight Over a Road" - October 22nd, 2010.  

If you haven't already, please take action on this issue.

Exxon moves the first mega-loads to the Northwest
Despite widespread opposition, this month Exxon imported its first shipment of heavy loads through the Port of Vancouver and barged them 435 miles upriver to the Port of Lewiston.  This act of arrogance—permits have not been issued and Conoco’s similar mega-loads are stalled at the Port by court order—is proof that Exxon views our rivers and roads as a mere resource at their disposal and cares little about public input.  

Recently translated Korean documents reveal what people have suspected:  Exxon wants permanent use of the Columbia-Snake Rivers and scenic Highway 12 to ship massive loads of mining equipment to the Tar Sands.  While Exxon continues to claim it plans to send only 207 mega-load shipments in the next year, documents obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) show that Exxon has signed long-term contracts with Korean manufacturers for equipment over the next two decades.   

And it’s not just Exxon hoping to make a new “High and Wide” shipping route through the Northwest.   Idaho Department of Transportation has met with Harvest Energy, another company involved in the Tar Sands that wants to use Highway 12 for their industrial shipping route.  

Opposition grows among elected leaders, agencies and citizens
With the realization that Big Oil wants to permanently transform one of the Northwest’s most beloved pristine recreation areas into a permanent industrial corridor, opposition is mounting.  Forest Supervisors for the Clearwater and Lolo National Forests are now on record in opposition..  The Missoula, MT City Council and local Idaho state representatives are working to stop the shipments.  Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio wrote a letter to the Dept. of Transportation expressing his concern over the impacts of this proposal and lack of public review and oversight.

Most recently, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) publicly expressed his concerns about Exxon’s plans and the impacts to the Northwest and is following the issue closely.

As Big Oil’s intentions become clear, concerns are growing.  With your help, we can stop Exxon from turning our rivers and roads into their own dirty highway.  Please contact your elected leaders and urge them to oppose Big Oil’s push for a Big Road.  At the very least urge them to require pubic and environmental review of such a far-reaching project that will change the character of the scenic Highway 12 corridor forever. 

Sam Mace is the Inland Northwest Director for Save Our Wild Salmon
She can be reached at

Orca Baby!

New killer whale calf appears in Puget Sound

From Christopher Dunagan of the Kitsap Sun:

The birth was reported by observers with the Center for Whale Research, who spotted the baby Wednesday off the south end of San Juan Island. The newborn has been designated L-116, the next available number for L pod.

The calf is believed to be the first offspring of L-82, born in 1990. The newborn appears to be less than a week old, and researchers say the calf appears healthy.

This is the third calf born into L pod this year. The first, L-114, did not survive more than a few days. The second, L-115, was born in August and still appears healthy. Both L-115 and L-116 and their mothers are in the same subgroup that has been traveling together. The new calf brings the total for the three Southern Resident pods to 90.

Meanwhile, a large number of killer whales was reported Thursday traveling through Puget Sound. They were seen from the Kingston and Bremerton ferries as well as from Blake Island and West Seattle. They were identified as Southern Residents.

At this time of year, orcas are seen more frequently in Central and South Puget Sound as they switch from foraging for chinook salmon, their primary prey in the San Juan Islands, to the more abundant chum salmon coming back to streams throughout Puget Sound.

In other orca-related news, Puget Sound kayak guide Martine Springer of Sea Quest Expeditions recently added her voice to Working Snake River for Washington.  Here's a clip:

"Imagine yourself in a kayak flowing down a broad ribbon of blue water. Surrounding you are more islands than you can count, and in the distance, you see snow-capped mountain peaks. Your flotilla of companions rounds a headland crowned by an old lighthouse, and suddenly, they appear."

Read more at Working Snake River for Washington.

For more information on the orca / salmon connection, check out this great video.
Also check out our great partners on this issue:
Center for Whale Research -- Orca Network -- People for Puget Sound

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Harnessing Washington’s Wind

Creating carbon-free energy and good jobs and healthy communities – and further diminishing the need for 4 dams on the lower Snake.

by Joseph Bogaard, outreach director, Save Our Wild Salmon
A recent article in the Vancouver Columbian highlighted the wind energy investments in Kittitas County in and around the Columbia Gorge east of Portland and Vancouver. This is one of our region’s most promising areas for generating this clean and affordable energy source. Indeed, the wind blows a lot around here. Based on projects currently under construction and in the permitting process, more than 1,000 wind turbines should be online within the next several years able to produce 1200 MW of energy. That’s enough to support roughly 300,000 homes.

In addition to bringing new carbon-free energy online, the projects are also creating lots of much needed, good-paying jobs, generating significant tax revenues, and creating an important revenue stream for farmers and rural landowners that is – at least in some cases – is allowing them to stay put and keep the land in the family instead of selling to developers.

Farmers who lease their land to energy companies for turbine installations  - about $10,000 per year per turbine – can also keep farming. This steady source of income can make an important difference in an industry often known for ups and downs. Tax revenues from the turbines are also helping to improve schools and invest in the public health and safety services like fire and police.

Washington state’s energy portfolio is diversifying rapidly. Regional hydropower is basically maxed out now, supplying just under 60% of Northwest electric needs. The region’s official power planning agency, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, projects electricity needs increasing by about 3,400 average megawatts over the next 10 years, dropping hydropower’s share of the regional mix to just over 50% by 2020. Hydropower’s share will continue to drop as power consumption rises … and that doesn’t even take into account the climate change-related reductions in mountain snowpack that will cut hydropower capacity ever more deeply.

Energy efficiency will meet the lion’s share of new needs, along with wind and other new renewable energy sources. 
Right now, we’re actually developing more wind power than the region currently needs, so much of this new clean energy is actually heading south to markets in California. As new clean sources of energy continue to come online in the Pacific Northwest, the importance of lower Snake River dams’ relatively small contribution to our region’s overall energy diet continues to shrink. Our region can survive, indeed even thrive, without the 1,200aMW generated by these dams – about a third of which is sold on the market to California and elsewhere since Northwest public utilities don’t need it.

More information can be found at the NW Energy Coalition’s website.
You can also contact me directly: