Jim Waddell is the Chair of Dam Sense, an organization made up of “a coalition of volunteers with diverse interests advocating for fact-based, economically-sensible use of the lower Snake River.” He organized Dam Sense after retiring in 2013, but that is not where his environmental work started. Jim worked as a Civil Engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers for 35 years, where his career took him from Walla Walla to the White House. During his time in Walla Walla, he served as the Deputy District Engineer, overseeing the 1999 Lower Snake Feasibility Study. The study found that breaching the lower Snake River Dams (LSRD) was the best way to restore Salmon populations which, in some cases, had already gone extinct or placed on the endangered species list. The findings of the report did not lead to positive government action, and rather than breaching the dams, the government invested more money in order to improve fish passageways that ended up being more costly than beneficial.
Jim points to the need for executive action on dam breaching, pointing out that it’s not a congressional action that’s needed, but one from the president. Jim’s work has ranged from advocacy to education on the issues surrounding the lower Snake River dams. He ultimately points to the fact that so much discourse revolves around habitat restoration, vessel noise, and pollution, but that none of these solutions are “gonna feed orcas quickly” and that “only dam breaching can do that on the Snake River dams.”
Jim not only focuses on the environmental impact of the dams but also the negligence involved in their economics and the arguments for them. Since starting work on this issue again, he has revisited the economic report for the dams and determined that his concerns originally raised in the 1999 study were “grossly underestimated.” Breaching the dams wouldn’t take away from current Washingtonian electricity usage, but rather slightly reduce the surplus electricity being produced that is then sold off to other states in the first place. This electricity production is also done at a loss, where a dollar’s worth of investment only returns 15 cents. Additionally, the original valuations of both the economic benefits and the cost for breaching the dams were overstated themselves.
The dams are not only economically costly but are costing the Southern Resident orcas a vital part of their diet. Each of the dams kill an estimated ten million smolt (juvenile) Chinook salmon on their way to the ocean annually, and breaching these dams would instantly provide orca and other wildlife with the food they needed to survive. For Jim, the answer is simple. If we want to save the salmon, orca, and money, we need to breach the lower Snake River dams.