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Commentaries and editorials

Conservation, Fishing Groups Intend to
Sue to Remove Snake River Dams

by Matthew Weaver
Capital Press, July 24, 2023

The Corps and agricultural stakeholders have long argued
that only Congress can authorize removal of the dams

Comparison of 2015 summer water temperatures between the actual, dammed Lower Snake River (left) and a modeled, free-flowing Lower Snake River (right). (Columbia Riverkeepers White Paper) Conservation and fishing groups have given 60-day notice of their intent to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, seeking removal of the Snake River dams.

Columbia Riverkeeper, Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Conservation League, and the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association claim the dams cause "hot water conditions that kill and injure Snake River sockeye salmon in violation of the Endangered Species Act," according to the letter.

"If the Biden administration breaks its promise to deliver a 'durable solution' for salmon recovery, this letter provides 60 days notice of our intent to sue the Corps for violations of the Endangered Species Act and seek relief up to and including the removal of four dams on the Lower Snake River," the groups wrote.

They sent the letter July 21 to Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, commanding general and chief of engineers for the Corps, and Lt. Col. ShaiLin KingSlack, district commander and engineer for the Corps' Walla Walla district.

The Corps is currently reviewing the notice of intent with the Department of Justice, Corps public affairs specialist Tom Conning said.

"The Corps and the rest of the (U.S.) government has made an overarching commitment to supporting development of a durable long-term strategy to restore salmon and other native fish populations to healthy and abundant levels, while honoring federal commitments to Tribal Nations, delivering affordable and reliable clean power, and meeting the many resilience needs of stakeholders across the region through a whole-of-government approach," Conning said.

The federal team, with other participants in mediation in long-standing Columbia River litigation, including Columbia Riverkeeper, are developing that strategy for meeting the "overarching" commitment to restore salmon and other native fish populations to "healthy and abundant levels," Conning said.

In their letter, the groups claim that:

Who has authority?
The Corps and agricultural stakeholders have long argued that only Congress can authorize removal of the dams.

The groups in their letter cite the 1973 Supreme Court case Tennessee Valley Authority vs. Hill, which found that congressional authorizations and appropriations for federal dams do not create exceptions to the Endangered Species Act or prevent injunctions prohibiting such dams.

"We will seek, and a court may order, all necessary relief up to and including removal of the Lower Snake River dams to prevent the illegal killing and likely extinction of endangered Snake River sockeye," the letter states.

"Warmer air temperatures cause warmer river temperatures," Northwest RiverPartners, the non-profit organization representing farmers, ports and not-for-profit utilities said in a press release responding to the notice. "There have been heat-related salmon die-offs in Canada's undammed Fraser River and undammed rivers as far north as Alaska."

Northwest RiverPartners also said that this year's Snake River sockeye returns are some of the best in recent memory.

"For a quarter of a century, anti-hydro interests have ignored the facts and the science on climate change and the important role our region's hydroelectric dams play in helping meet the challenge of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels," Northwest RiverPartners executive director Kurt Miller said in the release. "By doing so, they hurt our efforts to reduce emissions and help salmon that are dying because of climate change."

"We strongly believe that dams and salmon can and do co-exist,". said Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers. "While we appreciate efforts to ensure the long-term health of sockeye salmon, we firmly believe that recovery does not have to come at the cost of destroying the integrity of the Columbia Snake River System. We support science-based solutions to climate challenges as well as salmon population recovery."

The conservation and fishing groups say they continue to support ongoing efforts to replace the Lower Snake River dams' transportation, irrigation, and energy services.

"Un-damming the Lower Snake in order to cool the river and allow salmon to survive is a natural complement to those broader efforts," the organizations said in a press release.

Related Pages:
60-day notice of intent to seek removal of Snake River dams letter by Columbia Riverkeeper, Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Conservation League & Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association
Computer modeling shows that LSR dams caused dangerously hot water for salmon in 2015 Columbia Riverkeeper White Paper, Miles Johnson & Matthew Shultz

Matthew Weaver, Field Reporter, Spokane
Conservation, Fishing Groups Intend to Sue to Remove Snake River Dams
Capital Press, July 24, 2023

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