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Washington Democrats Make
Dam Removal a Platform Plank

by RaeLynn Ricarte
Center Square, June 27, 2022

Restoring salmon fisheries in the Columbia Basin would generate
up to 25,000 new jobs and add $1 billion a year to the economy

Graphic: Returns of Adult salmon and Steelhead to Idaho as counted at the last dam they must cross on their upstream journey (1962-2018) Washington State Democrats will call for four Lower Snake River dams to be removed as part of their campaign platform in 2022 elections and beyond.

The 534-75 vote at the bi-annual convention last weekend in Tacoma favored breaching the dams as one way to boost the salmon population.

Supporters cited a recent draft report commissioned by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Bothell, and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee outlining how the dams, completed in 1975, have altered the flow of the river making it more difficult for salmon to spawn.

As a result, the report contends the salmon population has declined by 90% from pre-dam levels.

Removing the dams would bring a number of benefits, according to the report, including draining the reservoirs on the river making it easier for salmon and other fish to migrate. The move would also benefit several of the state's tribes people by improving their salmon harvest and restoring about 34,000 acres of tribal land obliterated by the dams.

Restoring salmon fisheries in the Columbia Basin would also generate up to 25,000 new jobs and add $1 billion a year to the economy, the report said.

However, dissenters at the convention said the estimated $10.3 to $27 billion price tag to replace the electricity generated by the dams needed further study before a decision was made. In addition, the argued that low-emission transportation of goods and irrigation for farmers also needed to be given more consideration.




WHEREAS the Southern Resident Killer Whale (Orca) population was listed as endangered in 2005 under the Endangered Species Act and is considered depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act 1 ; and Southern Resident Orcas survive almost exclusively on Chinook Salmon 2 , and due to the decline of Chinook many Southern Resident Orca's have been observed to be in poor physical condition and experiencing difficulty raising calves 3 ;

WHEREAS salmonids require specific temperature variations and cold water river conditions during migration and spawning cycles for survival 4 , water temperatures in the Columbia and Snake Rivers are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Water Act 303(d), and Washington and Oregon, have failed to comply by exceeding temperatures for decades resulting in the decline of hundreds of thousands of salmon annually 5,6,7,8 ;

WHEREAS studies by the EPA indicate dam removal and the restoration of free flowing water in the Snake River will decrease water temperatures and improve salmonid survival rates 9 , and in 2018 Washington State Governor Jay Inslee and the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force were informed by more than 30 salmon biologists that one of the key measures necessary to increase Chinook abundance from the Columbia/Snake system is to permanently restore the Snake River by removing the lower four Snake River dams (LSRD) 10 ;

WHEREAS numerous cost and benefit analyses indicate sales and annual power production on the LSRDs are not economical, costing taxpayers $17 billion over the past 30 years on unsuccessful fish recovery efforts 11,12 . Additionally 9 of the 24 turbines on the LSRDs have exceeded their 45-year service life, while the remaining 15 will reach their service life by 2025. Replacing all 24 turbines will cost an estimated $1 billion 13 . Idaho Congressional Representative Mike Simpson's Columbia Basin Initiative includes removal of the LSRDs and outlines a sound plan that will: 1) replace the 3033 megawatts of hydropower capacity from the dams with alternative clean energy, 2) increase agricultural water efficiency, 3) replace Snake River barge traffic from Lewiston to Pasco with energy efficient rail transport, 4) enhance recreational opportunities for all. The Columbia Basin Initiative outlines an estimated $33.5 billion dollar plan over a ten-year period, of which $10 billion is earmarked for replacement energy generation, includes funds for returning the Snake River to its natural state.

WHEREAS on July 9 th 2021 the Salmon Orca Summit was convened at the Squaxin Island Reservation in Mason County WA, co-hosted by the Nez Perce Tribe and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians representing more than 50 Indian nations calling for immediate action to save endangered Orcas and the Snake River salmon they depend on, pressing Governor Jay Inslee and elected officials to remove the LSRDs 14 . During that Summit Washington State Governor Inslee and Congressional Senator Patty Murray each stated dam removal on the Lower Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia, must remain on the table and a comprehensive solution quickly reached to savesalmon and Orcas from extinction, and in a statement made by a video call, Inslee said work must get underway urgently to identify ways to replace the services of the dams so next steps can be taken toward a comprehensive solution for salmon recovery 14 ;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that Washington State Democratic Central Committee (WSDCC) calls on the President of the United States (POTUS) and the 117th Congress to ensure that funding is set aside now in the Biden Administration's Infrastructure stimulus package for the river restoration that is the only path to the survival of the salmon and the orca that depend on them, by breaching the four lower Snake River dams and also to fund replacing the transportation, irrigation and power generation provided by the dams consistent with the goals of Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson's legislative proposal; and

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the WSDCC thanks, and acknowledges the work and dedication of Senator Patty Murray, and Governor Jay Inslee and Congressional Representative Mike Simpson. Their work changes the conversation around salmon and orca recovery, recognizes and honors the claims of Northwest Tribes and recognizes the urgency of the situation and transforming the conversation; and

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the WSDCC calls upon the federal government to withdraw any court federal defense of the prior administration's flawed 2020 Columbia River System Environmental Impact Statement, Biological Opinion, and Record of Decisions as a defense of methods and conclusions that are inconsistent with the new administration's environmental and tribal principals and priorities; and

THEREFORE BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that in reaffirming our commitment to Resolution 919, the WSDCC calls upon Governor Inslee, and both State and Federal Senators and Representatives to take steps to breach the lower four Snake River dams as a result of implementation of a comprehensive solution, base in science, that honors Tribal nation treaties and subsistence fisheries, centers the voices and needs of communities in the region, provides a just transition to living wage jobs, supports agricultural production and irrigation, recreation, transportation, and clean energy without diminishing protections under the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and National Environmental Policy Act or our state's ability to implement the Washington Clean Energy Transformation Act.

RaeLynn Ricarte
Washington Democrats make Dam Removal a Platform Plank
Center Square, June 27, 2022

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