A rough assessment of the economic benefits from a $33.5 billion proposal for breaching four lower Snake River dams indicates the funds would create about 9,250 jobs for the first 10 years, or 20,000 direct and indirect jobs.

That translates to an average of 11,000 direct and indirect jobs annually for the next 25 years.

Funded by the Water Foundation, a California nonprofit group, the initial economic assessment was conducted by Seattle's BERK Consulting, commissioned to analyze the economic impact of a proposal by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) to breach the dams in hopes of saving Idaho's dwindling salmon and steelhead populations.

Details of Simpson's proposal, now being called the Columbia Basin Fund, have not yet been developed, so the assessment is "an illustrative investment scenario with assumed phasing of the investment over time, high-level assumptions around the kind of expenditures, and assumptions around the geographic location of the investment."

Based on several overlapping categories, the assessment found that $30 billion or 93 percent of the funds would support the region’s economic transition; $2.2 billion or 7 percent would be invested in tribal communities; $21 billion or 63 percent would likely be spent on construction and infrastructure; and $7.9 billion or 24 percent would likely be spent in the nine counties closest to the dams.

"This initial assessment indicates that from a purely economic perspective, the proposed Columbia Basin Fund holds great promise for stimulating job creation, fully mitigating impacts to key regional industries and investing in future regional growth," it states.

Kristin Meira, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, said she's not aware of any studies or assessments showing the numbers of direct and indirect jobs that rely on the four dams. They include people who operate the dams, cruise boat employees, and those who work in the ports and barging industry.

Meira said most of the jobs in the assessment appear to be associated with implementing the fund, which currently doesn't exist.

"The bottom line is, this proposal is essentially a series of subsidies at U.S. taxpayers' expense, all in pursuit of breaching four dams that don't block fish, while doing nothing to address Idaho's significant issues" surrounding salmon passage and protection, she said.

She also questioned the tourism benefits in the assessment, saying the region hasn't seen major recreation industries grow in other areas where dams have been removed.

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K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.