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Battle Will Continue
Over Fish and Dams

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, January 2, 2022

What to expect in 2022

Lower Granite Dam impounds Snake River waters nearly forty miles to the Idaho border. The fate of Snake River salmon and steelhead and the four lower Snake River dams may be revealed as early as next summer.

It's unlikely to be quite that dramatic, but there are a pair of looming processes set to conclude July 31 that should telegraph how the long-running dispute over fish and dams will play out, at least in the near term.

Two months ago, litigants in a decadeslong court battle over the dams and their effect on threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead announced a temporary ceasefire. The Biden administration is now in talks with the Nez Perce Tribe, Oregon and fishing and conservation groups in the hopes the two sides can reach a "long term solution."

Off and on over the past two decades, the plaintiffs have challenged successive iterations of the federal government's plans to balance operation of the Columbia River hydropower system with the needs of migrating anadromous fish. The plaintiffs have a long history of prevailing in those battles and have challenged the government's latest plan, finalized in 2020 under the Trump administration.

Last fall, both sides sought and Judge Michael Simon of Portland, Ore,. granted a stay in the case. The federal government has not identified what it views as a solution but the plaintiffs have long pushed for the removal of the earthen portions of Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams between Lewiston and the Tri-Cities. Doing so, they say, will reduce dam-related mortality and produce survival rates that would allow the fish runs to recover. But breaching would come at a steep cost -- the loss of tug-and-barge transportation on the lower Snake and a reduction in the capacity of the Columbia River hydropower system.

Running parallel to those negotiations is a process led by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray. The two powerful Washington Democrats are seeking ways to replace the transportation and power generation made possible by the Snake River dams. They intend to announce by July 31 their stance on dam breaching.

Inslee and Murray initially gave the cold shoulder to Rep. Mike Simpson's dam breaching concept. The Republican representing the state's 2nd Congressional District proposed in February to breach the dams and mitigate affected communities and industries via a $35.5 billion package. The concept was panned by Simpson's fellow Republicans in the region. But the Nez Perce Tribe led a campaign in support of the idea that may have proved instrumental in convincing Inslee and Murray to launch their process.

PREDICTION: Even if the litigation negotiations and the Inlee-Murray deliberations both result in calls for dam breaching, this battle is far from over, especially if Republicans win control of one or both chambers of Congress in the midterm elections, as many expect.

Eric Barker
Battle Will Continue Over Fish and Dams
Lewiston Tribune, January 2, 2022

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