Washington's Dams Balance
by Kris Johnson
Construction of the four Lower Snake River dams -- Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite -- began in 1962. Back then, the focus was on the efficient production of energy, transporting goods and supplying water to Washington’s vibrant agricultural sector.
Today, the dams produce 40 percent of the region’s energy through clean hydropower generation, support agricultural production and transportation, and improve our quality of life by lifting the economy and supporting recreation. They are also integral to flood control.
Equally critical, they support healthy fish and wildlife populations and their complex life cycles, thanks to a series of improvements to the dams set out in Federal Columbia River Power System’s (FCRPS) 2014 biological opinion, or BiOp.
This BiOp’s success is due in part to a strong partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), outlining a salmon management plan for the 13 stocks of Columbia and Snake river salmon and steelhead protected under the Endangered Species Act.
In a supplemental BiOp in January 2014, NOAA confirmed that improvements at federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, rehabilitation of habitat, and other actions are benefiting federally protected salmon and steelhead as much as, or more than, anticipated five years before when the plan was put in place and before court orders were put in place in 2011 to re-examine the two previous BiOps.
Proper fish ladders have been installed to ensure healthy migration of salmon and other fish to spawning grounds up river and the Army Corps of Engineers’ Walla Walla division has been instrumental in controlling river temperatures through release of reservoir water during the hot summer days.
That’s great news and a testament to how we all have the same goals -- clean energy, a healthy environment and a sustainable future -- and that when we work together good solutions and outcomes follow.
Noting the successful efforts, last fall U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) introduced HR 3144 to keep the 2014 BiOp in place until 2022 -- a move that would build on the successful and steady fish migration and habitat restoration gains.
However, on Dec. 5, Gov. Jay Inslee wrote a letter to several high-ranking members of U.S. House committees expressing concerns with HR 3144.
Inslee wrote, “While the State of Washington believes the 2014 BiOp represented a step forward for efforts to protect and recover 13 stocks of threatened or endangered Columbia and Snake river salmon and steelhead, HR 3144 would thwart constructive ongoing efforts to improve future salmon and dam management.”
We believe, like Rep. McMorris Rodgers, that now is not the time to abandon the comprehensive BiOp plan that is fostering collaboration that is leading to real results for fish and wildlife.
Like any introduction of structures in our waterways, there are differing opinions -- from environmental groups and clean energy advocates and our governor to members of Congress -- on how they impact the environment.
Employers, our congressional delegation, NOAA and others are taking the challenge of meeting our region’s energy needs with clean, renewable hydropower while preserving the natural environment seriously.
The success speaks for itself and HR 3144 is one way to continue it.
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