I officially started at Northwest RiverPartners on March 11, 2019. Since then, I have been inspired every day by the opportunity to make a difference for people in the Northwest. It is an opportunity that lies before all of us. Together we can make a positive impact.
At Northwest RiverPartners, we advocate for our local hydropower system. That means we advocate for affordable energy, clean air, carbon-free generation, irrigation for agriculture, improved conditions for salmon, low-carbon transportation, renewability, safe drinking water and affordable energy for those who need it the most: low-income families, rural populations and small businesses.
Looking at that list, our job should be easy. It’s hard to imagine anyone would oppose any of those values. Surprisingly, the work is quite challenging. A narrative out there says dams—especially the lower Snake River dams— harm salmon and orcas, and, consequently, indigenous communities. The messaging makes it clear that if you are for hydropower, you must be against the iconic essence of the Northwest.
These past few months, I have been blessed with the opportunity to talk to some of the people behind these messages. I can tell you their hearts are in the right place. They see the decline of salmon and orcas and want to do something about it. Some are convinced dams are the problem. Others aren’t so sure, but they believe dams can be replaced by other forms of clean energy and are willing to try.
Their aspirations are as noble as our own. Ultimately, both sides want the healthy outcomes for salmon and orcas.
Our members believe hydropower is part of the solution, and we have lots of facts to support it. Recently, scientific studies show salmon returns to the Snake River are similar or better than both free-flowing and dammed rivers in Alaska, Canada, the Puget Sound and Southern Oregon. Through extensive tracking, we know juvenile salmon passage past each of the lower Snake and lower Columbia dams is around 96%.
Above all else, we’ve learned that changing ocean conditions—driven by climate change and pollution—are taking a toll on marine ecosystems worldwide.
Despite this data and research, these facts haven’t carried the day in the court of public opinion. Because there are conflicting views, they’ve even struggled to hold weight in federal court.
Perhaps in an era of alternate facts and skepticism, this outcome isn’t surprising.
However, this attitude presents a challenge. If we can’t carry the day with facts, how do we get people to understand the importance of Northwest hydropower?
We have some very powerful stories to share. Across the region, real people in real communities depend on the hydropower system in a multitude of ways. We have great examples of efforts that have helped salmon, steelhead and other fish species. Sharing these stories is essential to showing what hydropower is all about.
The success of our efforts will depend on our ability to share these stories in a way that connects us all. Our goal at Northwest RiverPartners is to work with our members to identify compelling stories within their communities. We have more than 120 members, all of whom have earned a high degree of trust with their customers and member-owners through years of public service.
For the first time, Northwest RiverPartners will connect with Northwesterners through social media and other channels to reinforce what they are hearing from our member organizations.
A lot of decisions around hydropower are going to be made in the coming months and years. Those decisions will affect the reliability of the power grid, the affordability of electricity, the health of our environment, the sustainability of our salmon populations and the livability of our communities.
This is a moment of truth for the future of the Northwest.
If you want to make a difference, write to your representatives and senators and let them know hydropower is important to you. Also, please write to us if you have a story of how the hydropower system has helped you or your community. Address email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a letter to Northwest RiverPartners, 9817 NE 54th St. #103, Vancouver, WA 98662.
We appreciate your advocacy and support.