The rivers of the Pacific Northwest have shaped both the land and the lives of Northwesterners for thousands of years. Today, that also means commerce and irrigation. It means generating zero-carbon-footprint energy for 60% of all the electricity needs in the Northwest.

It means that the farmer, the engineer, the biologist and the barge captain all have jobs. And it means that other clean energy sources like wind and solar can have their occasional windless day, or take the night off.

The river is still flowing. And a lot more than water flows from it.


Northwest rivers irrigate 7.8 million acres of farmland each year.


In the Northwest, hydropower provides 90% of our renewable energy.


The Northwest river system provides over 100,000 jobs to our region.


Reservoirs provide millions of Northwest residents with places to swim, boat, fish and play

Clean Air

Hydro produces no carbon emissions and keeps 700,000 trucks off NW highways each year.

Flood Control

Dams protect our cities from floods. In 1996 they saved Portland $3.2 billion in damages.

Clean Hydro Fast Facts

Clean and Efficient
  • Hydroelectricity is the original Northwest renewable resource. Dams store water from melting snow and rainfall in reservoirs, which is then released and passes through turbines to generate electricity. The water (fuel) is reused over and over as it moves downriver through multiple dams.
  • The dams are doing what they are supposed to do, which is to use engineering – and management – to buffer us from climate variability and climate warming,” said Julia Jones, an Oregon State University hydrologist. “The climate change signals that people have expected in stream flow haven’t been evident in the Columbia River basin because of the dams and reservoir management. That may not be the case elsewhere, however.”
  • Hydropower is the most efficient form of electricity generation. Its capable of converting 90 percent of the available energy into electricity. Coal or natural gas plants are about 50 percent efficient. Wind turbines rate approximately 33 percent efficiency.
  • Hydropower produces zero carbon emissions, helping to keep the Northwests energy carbon footprint at half that of other parts of the country.
  • Northwest dams provide nearly 60 percent of the regions electricity under normal rain and snow conditions.
  • Overall, Northwest dams produce an average of about 14,000 megawatts of electricity every year under normal precipitation equivalent to powering over 11 Seattle-sized cities every year.
Flexible, Reliable, Responsive
  • Hydropower is a flexible resource available nearly instantaneously to meet the ups and downs in electricity demand. Hydro literally turns the lights on at the flick of a switch.
The Source for Affordable Power
  • The Northwest has some of the lowest electricity rates in the country. Hydro is the key to affordability.
  • Electricity from Northwest hydropower facilities typically costs three to 10 times less (per megawatt hour) than nuclear, coal or natural gas plants. Its also cheaper than wind or solar.
  • Harnessing the astonishing power of the Columbia and Snake Rivers made the dream of a better life for Northwest citizens a reality and created an economy that is still the envy of the world. The rivers and dams help move locally grown food and other products destined for the Northwest and the world.
  • Annual net earned income from Northwest agriculture production exceeds $8 billion.
  • Six percent of the Columbia River Basin’s yearly runoff is used to irrigate about 7.8 million acres of Northwest farmland.
  • Greater irrigation efficiency in the Columbia River Basin has decreased water use by 10 to 25 percent per acre over the last decade.
A River of Business
  • The Northwest is the nation’s number one exporter of wheat and barley, and Northwest farmers are connected to the world via the Columbia River system.
  • Over 42 million tons of commercial cargo, valued at over $20 billion, moves down the Columbia and Snake Rivers annually.
  • The marine highway created by the Columbia and Snake River dams is the most environmentally friendly way to move cargo. Barging keeps 700,000 trucks off Northwest highways every year. The fuel efficiency for barges is an impressive 576 ton-miles per gallon compared with rail at 413 ton-miles and trucking at 155 ton-miles per gallon.
  • High technology farms, such as Intel, Google and Facebook are locating facilities in the Northwest because of the availability of reliable, clean hydropower, creating jobs and boosting local economies.
Flood Control
  • Prior to the federal dams on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, Portland and other cities and towns were subject to severe flooding. Controlling flood waters in the Columbia River became a high priority in 1948 when the entire city of Vanport, Oregon, was destroyed in a late spring deluge.
  • In February 1996, when floods threatened Portland, Oregon, dam operations kept the river level a foot to a foot and a half lower than it would have been otherwise. Estimates show that flood control operations saved the region $3.2 billion in devastating flood damage.
Salmon Outlook
  • Many factors have contributed to declines in Northwest salmon populations. Overfishing, lack of passage at dams, loss of habitat from logging and urban growth, and poor hatchery practices have all played a role in overall salmon declines. It will take a comprehensive approach to restore the runs. But there is also good news.



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  • New fish protection technologies are installed at all eight dams, including fish bypass systems, screens and slides to help young fish migrate downstream to the ocean.
  • Hydro system operations have been modified to increase flows and the spill of water through the dams to move young fish downstream faster, and fish survivals at the dam are high, averaging 97 percent.
  • From 1938 until 1986, total adult salmon counts at Bonneville Dam never exceeded 1 million. This decade has seen record and near-record salmon runs as improvements at the dams, hydro operations, habitat and hatchery improvements and good ocean conditions worked together to benefit salmon.
Northwest Hydro is Regions Biggest Power Player
  • The biggest player in the Northwests electricity supply is hydropower. For 70 years, it has been an affordable, clean and reliable resource. During a year when water levels in the rivers are average, the region depends on hydropower for more than half of our electricity generation. In years when rainfall and snowpack produce a higher water flow, the percentage of our electricity that is generated by hydropower rises, too.


About Northwest RiverPartners


Northwest RiverPartners’ member organizations include more than 40,000 farmers, 4 million electric utility customers, thousands of port jobs, 7,000 small businesses, and hundreds of large businesses that rely on the economic and environmental benefits of the Columbia and Snake rivers.

RiverPartners promotes all the benefits of the rivers – fish and wildlife, renewable hydropower, agriculture, flood control, commerce and recreation. We believe that salmon protection and recovery efforts need to be based in the best science, and that responsible policies will lead to increased salmon runs and increased economic opportunity for the entire Northwest.

To learn more, visit the Northwest RiverPartners website.