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Ag, Utility Groups Ask NW Governors
for Holistic Approach to Salmon Recovery

by Matthew Weaver
Capital Press, November 10, 2020

(Darin Oswald) Fish ladders at the the Lower Granite Dam had water that was too warm for salmon, but turbine manipulation saved the day. The region's major agricultural organizations are part of a group asking four Northwest governors to consider a holistic approach to salmon recovery.

Twenty-five cooperative electric utilities and farm organizations from around the region signed the letter to Govs. Brad Little of Idaho, Kate Brown of Oregon, Jay Inslee of Washington and Steve Bullock of Montana and that state's governor-elect, Greg Gianforte.

The governors recently announced a regional collaboration on salmon recovery in the Columbia River Basin.

The letter is intended to make sure the governors understand the scope of the problem as they bring stakeholders together, said Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners in Vancouver, Wash.

Northwest RiverPartners serves not-for-profit, community-owned electric utilities in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada and Wyoming.

"We're trying to make sure they understand that this is a trans-oceanic issue -- it's not just the Pacific Coast that's having salmon survival problems, it's the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, it's essentially a world-wide problem," Miller said.

The stakeholders ask for:

"Everybody wants healthy runs for salmon," said Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, which signed the letter along with other regional wheat organizations and grower groups. "We also want a healthy economy."

Environmental groups have been pushing for the removal of the Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite dams on the Snake River to solve salmon recovery problems.

"Clearly there's no silver bullet," Squires said. "The issue is bigger than that. (The letter) points out there needs to be collaborative discussions. It's important for ag to say, 'We need to take a balanced approach.'"

The coalition of groups that signed the letter shows broad support across communities that depend on hydroelectricity, salmon and agriculture, Miller said.

"We want to make sure it's approached in a scientific and logical way," he said.

"Obviously (the governors) are hearing from those that want to take out dams," Squires said. "I think it's important for them to hear that there's constituents in the industry that say, 'That's not the solution to the problem.'"

Dear Governors Brown, Bullock, Inslee, Little and Governor-Elect Gianforte:

On behalf of over three million of the region’s community-owned utility customers and thousands of small businesses, farms, and manufacturers which depend on clean, affordable hydropower, recreation, irrigation, and navigation, we thank you for coming together to actively work on salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest.

We collectively embrace the critical importance of healthy salmon populations for the Pacific Northwest and its Tribal Nations. The communities and organizations we represent live here and care greatly for the region’s natural environment. It is part of our shared Northwest ethic and heritage.

As Northwest states move towards bold clean energy goals, we point out that several of the nation’s most respected environmental advocacy groups recently acknowledged hydropower’s importance in the nation’s fight against climate change.

Regionally, hydropower plays an even bigger role, providing close to half of all our electricity and 90% of our renewable electricity.

As a result, our region has the least carbon-intensive electric service and the most-affordable renewable power in the nation. It is crucial that we retain this leadership position in clean and affordable energy to meet the region’s equity, environmental health, and economic recovery objectives.

Our respective organizations have never believed there is any inherent conflict between the region’s hydropower, irrigation, recreation, and navigation systems and healthy salmon populations. The data reflect this perspective.

Viewed on a decade-by-decade basis, the numbers of adult salmon returning to the Columbia River Basin have seen significant improvements since the lower Columbia River dams and lower Snake River dams were built, bolstered by successful hatchery programs and significant fish passage improvements.

There is no denying, however, that compared to the number of juvenile smolts produced, the overall percentage of returning adults is on the decline. That trend is not unique to the Columbia River Basin.

A new peer-reviewed study published in Fish & Fisheries shows there have been near-uniform declines in Chinook salmon survival across the West Coast of North America over the past 50 years.

This finding includes rivers with dams and those without dams; from pristine rivers in Alaska to more urbanized rivers in the Puget Sound. The study shows these declines have averaged approximately 65% over the 50-year period. Research indicates this general trend applies to steelhead and southern coho populations, as well.

Two other studies released this summer also point to the strong relationship between climate change, warming oceans, and declining salmonid health.

In its recently released Biological Opinion (p 276), NOAA Fisheries showed that climate change appears to have a much larger effect on Chinook salmon survival in the oceans than in rivers. Alarmingly, NOAA indicates Chinook salmon populations may face extinction in 20 to 30 years if the observed relationships between warming ocean temperatures and salmon survival continue.

Pointing to a more hostile ocean environment, due to ocean-warming and competition from pink salmon, scientists at the University of Alaska found the size of Chinook and sockeye salmon in Alaska’s rivers has declined significantly since 1960, as salmon are spending fewer years at sea. The researchers purposely chose a region of North America without dams to isolate this oceanic effect.

It is often implied that breaching the lower Snake River dams will solve the problem of salmon recovery because we are told its habitat is pristine. However, decades of development have taken a toll on many areas of the river. Additionally, the Fish and Fisheries study demonstrates that even truly pristine rivers have experienced equivalent steep declines in adult salmon survival.

In conclusion, the referenced studies show salmon struggles are not isolated to the Columbia River Basin. Instead, we have an ocean-wide problem, which requires a holistic approach and perspective.

Accordingly, we, the signatories of this letter, call for the following guiding principles to effectively guide the four-state process:

Trans-Oceanic Acknowledgement: Solutions must be grounded in the fact there is strong scientific research demonstrating the declines in key salmon populations are due to warming, acidifying oceans that are shifting the balance between salmon predators and prey. If these trends continue, salmon survival may decline even further. If this reality is not understood as the baseline, then the solutions that come out of the four-state process will inevitably be unsuccessful.

Holistic Approach: Solutions must be holistic in nature, addressing the broad nature of salmon survival declines. As a result, favored solutions should prioritize efforts to address challenges in the shared ocean environment.

Social Cost of Carbon: Solutions must be evaluated for their effect on the social cost of carbon. The recently adopted Record of Decision for Columbia River System Operations includes data-driven estimates for carbon production increases if hydropower generation is diminished.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Solutions must be examined for their likely socioeconomic and health impacts for under-represented and vulnerable communities that need access to affordable energy, clean air, and agricultural jobs. The recently adopted Record of Decision for Columbia River System Operations includes relevant scenarios for increased customer costs if hydropower generation is diminished.

Wildfires & Climate-Driven Disasters: Solutions must not add to the risk of wildfires and other climate-driven disasters that can affect both salmon and people.

Balanced: Solutions must be balanced in nature when evaluating the hydropower system, recognizing the Congressionally-authorized multiple purposes of the Federal Columbia River Power System. These purposes include flood control, navigation, recreation, irrigation, and electricity production.

Scientific Rigor: Solutions that would diminish significant clean energy resources and/or low carbon transportation infrastructure must undergo non-partisan and rigorous scientific testing before adoption.

Once again, we thank you for your efforts as you plan to bring diverse stakeholder groups together to help the region recover threatened and endangered salmon populations. This goal is incredibly important. We offer our pledge to assist you in the process as regional stakeholders and to provide subject matter expertise.

Respectfully, Mike Bradshaw, Benton Rural Electric Association
Randy Grove, Central Lincoln People's Utility District
Scott Peters, Columbia Rural Electric Association
Roman Gillen, Consumers Power Inc.
Kevin Nordt, Grant PUD
Kristin Masteller, Mason PUD 1
Alex McGregor, The McGregor Company & McGregor Land & Livestock
David Doernsfeld, Port of Lewiston
Chad Black, Raft River Electric Cooperative
Tony Schacher, Salem Electric Cooperative

Matthew Weaver
Ag, Utility Groups Ask NW Governors for Holistic Approach to Salmon Recovery
Capital Press, November 10, 2020

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