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Commentaries and editorials

Seriously, How Many Snake River Dam Studies
Does WA State Really Need?

by Editorial Board
Tri-City Herald, April 14, 2023

Last year, Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson proposed dismantling the Snake dams.

Musical director Brook Black of Pasco leads a rendition of The Snake River dams can't be studied enough, it appears.

Washington state lawmakers are still working through the budget, but it looks like millions of dollars will once again be spent on trying to find a way to replace the benefits of the dams.

Sen. Matt Boehnke, R-Kennewick and Sen. Perry Dozier, R-Waitsburg, recently spoke on the Senate floor against the state transportation budget because it includes $5 million to study how the state can stop barging and, instead, use roads and rail cars.

The Columbia Snake River System provides farmers from all over the nation access to international markets through West Coast ports. Supporters of the dams have repeatedly said that barging is the most efficient and environmentally clean way to get wheat and other products to port. But after last year's draft report on the Snake dams commissioned by Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, it's no surprise that this year more money is being allocated to study ways to justify the dams' demise.

The two high-ranking Democrats from the west side of Washington led the process last year that focused on what it would take to restore the state's salmon and steelhead populations.

Their report concluded that breaching the dams would provide the greatest benefit to fish runs, but acknowledged that the benefits the dams provide -- especially hydropower -- cannot be easily replaced and breaching them is not feasible at this time.

In fact, replacing the clean energy, irrigation and transportation benefits the dams provide was estimated to cost from about $10 billion to $27 billion.

So now, this year Inslee is following through and taking steps that would eventually make breaching the dams a feasible option.

In addition to the $5 million in the transportation budget, there's roughly another $500,000 in the Senate operating budget that asks the state Department of Ecology to look at how to support irrigation to the farmers of our region if the dams no longer helped provide it.

And then there is another $2 million in the Senate operating budget to study what the region needs to achieve its clean energy goals, which includes figuring a way to do that without the dams.

Sen. Boehnke noted that the dams provide 5% of the Pacific Northwest's electricity, enough to power the city of Seattle.

"We can't afford to lose that power -- not unless we want to see California-style rolling blackouts," he told the Herald.

"Rather than deal with this reality, proponents of breaching want yet another couple of studies, to the tune of $7.5 million spread out over the operating and transportation budget proposals.

"It is a waste of time and money, and I will continue to work to remove that spending from the budget up until the gavel drops on this legislative session," Boehnke said.

We care deeply about salmon and the environment. Our concern is that a laser-focus on breaching the Snake dams takes away from other problems that harm fish and orcas -- especially pollution, predators and boats.

And what have some of these studies accomplished?

In 2019 the state spent $750,000 for a task force to study the effects to Eastern Washington if the lower Snake dams are breached, which resulted in summaries of both sides of the issue but no hard and fast conclusions.

Then, in 2020, the federal, comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was released, which was a massive undertaking by scientists, engineers and experts who specialize in fish recovery and hydropower.

The study found the breaching the dams would double our region's risk of power shortages and significantly raise power rates. It concluded the Snake dams and fish can coexist.

Then last year, a federal report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration favored breaching.

And let's not forget that in 2021 Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, revealed a plan that estimated it would take more than $30 billion to mitigate the damage to the region if the Snake dams were torn down.

With the Inslee-Murray report last year, and now more studies in the works for this year, the battle over the Snake dams looks like it will never end.

At some point maybe there should be a study on these repetitive Snake dam studies, and whether they've been worth the money.

Editorial Board
Seriously, How Many Snake River Dam Studies Does WA State Really Need?
Tri-City Herald, April 14, 2023

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