“Breaching Snake River dams could save salmon and orcas, but destroy livelihoods” reads a March 24, 2019 cover story of the Sunday Seattle Times Pacific NW magazine. Such headlines reinforce the misperception that removing the dams would deal a blow to the economy of Eastern Washington. The recent economic impact analysis by ECONorthwest (ECONW) shows just the opposite: a river recovery project would add hundreds of jobs to the lower Snake River basin.
In 2002, the Corps estimated the costs of breaching the dams and restoring the river would total $860 million in 1999 dollars or $1.6 billion in 2018 dollars. This influx of spending for engineering, construction, and environmental mitigation during and long after removal would increase employment, income, and output through the region. According to the modeling by ECONW, a capital project of this size would add over 300 jobs per year in the counties adjacent to the river for more than 30 years.
Restoring the lower Snake River would also bring more recreational visitors to enjoy white water recreation and other riverside activities. ECONW projects that by 2040 annual visitors would increase by 1 million compared with a baseline of 1.4 million visitors if the dams remain. Assuming visitor spending amounts in Asotin County from a 2016 study, those new visitors would spend an additional $80 million per year.