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Inslee-Murray Report: Snake River
Dam Breaching Not Feasible Now

by Matthew Weaver
Capital Press, August 26, 2022

"Simply put, the benefits provided by barges cannot be replaced by other methods of transportation..."
-- Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers

Graphic: Recent Downriver Grain Shipments on the Snake River (2000 - 2019) Breaching the lower Snake River dams is not "a feasible or responsible option" until their energy or economic benefits can be replaced, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in releasing a report he and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray commissioned.

But state and federal governments should come up with a plan to replace the benefits of the dams to enable breaching to move forward, Inslee said in a press release.

Inslee and Murray, both Democrats, released their final report evaluating the feasibility of breaching the dams Aug. 25.

"We must recognize that breaching the dams does in fact offer us the best chance at protecting endangered salmon and other iconic species that run through these waters," Inslee stated. "But the hydropower and economic benefits of the dams are significant, and breaching them before we have other systems in place to replace those benefits would be disastrous."

"...It's clear that breach is not an option right now -- while many mitigation measures exist, many require further analysis or are not possible to implement in the near-term," Murray said. "Importantly, the Pacific Northwest cannot delay its decarbonization goals as we confront the climate crisis. Key infrastructure and energy investments must be in place before we can seriously consider breach."

But specific salmon runs are "struggling," and breaching is "an important option that could help save the salmon," Murray said. "We cannot under any circumstances allow the extinction of salmon to come to pass."

Many of the actions required to mitigate and replace the dams' benefits will require federal and congressional action, Inslee and Murray said.

"Status quo is not an option," Inslee's office said in a press release. "Changing economic, energy and climate conditions requires leaders to plan for changing circumstances in the Columbia Basin region during the coming decades."

Saving salmon and other species in the Columbia Basin is "imperative," Inslee said.

Inslee acknowledged that the question of whether to breach the dams is "deeply personal to the many communities and Tribes engaged in this debate."

Agricultural stakeholders responded to the final report.

"We appreciate Senator Murray and Governor Inslee's recognition of the importance of our farmers, the food they produce, and the barge transportation and irrigation that many of them rely on, to our region and nation," Washington Grain Commission CEO Glen Squires said in a press release. "Now is not the time to make such great changes which would hurt U.S. farmers and significantly impact U.S. competitiveness in the global market, costing us trade, jobs, and economic stability here in the Northwest."

Squires is also president of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA) the nonprofit trade association that advocates for regional navigation, energy, trade and economic development.

PNWA executive director Heather Stebbings, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, was pleased to see Murray and Inslee recognize the importance of the dams for the economy and the environment.

"We share their concern about the future of the salmon and agree that there are many efforts in the region that can take place outside of breaching that would have significant positive benefits for the fish," Stebbings said in a press release. "We stand ready to help where we can, and to advocate for future funding to ensure that programs like habitat and ecosystem restoration, toxics reduction, predator abatement and more can be established, and that our federal agencies can better understand ecosystem impacts on the full lifecycle of our iconic fish."

"While we appreciate Senator Murray and Governor Inslee's acknowledgment of the critical role these dams play for agriculture and recognition of the lack of feasibility in breaching the dams in the current environment, Washington wheat growers remain opposed to any actions by federal or state governments that leave dam breaching on the table," said Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers. "Simply put, the benefits provided by barges cannot be replaced by other methods of transportation ... The Lower Snake River Dams allow wheat farmers in Washington and across the country to efficiently transport their product in a way that provides significant benefits to both the economy and environment, and most importantly, helps farmers feed people around the world."

WAWG remains committed to working alongside government officials and the broader stakeholder community to achieve "science-based solutions" for a healthy salmon population, and support the viability of family-owned farms and businesses, Hennings said.

"Farmers, and the industries that support them, believe that salmon and dams can and do co-exist and that we can have healthy rivers and a healthy economy," Leslie Druffel, outreach director for the McGregor Co. and inland ports and navigation group co-chair for PNWA, stated in the press release. "We are looking forward to contributing to the conversation and to supporting a basin-wide approach to salmon recovery going forward."

Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, called Inslee and Murray's recommendation a win for farmers and electricity customers.

"(They) recognize the critical role the Lower Snake River dams play in maintaining an affordable, reliable, clean electric grid and their role in making agriculture possible in different regions of the Northwest, through irrigation and barging," Miller said. "That was a huge recognition."

Sean Ellis, spokesman for the Idaho Farm Bureau, disagreed with the report's assertion that the river system is operating under the status quo, and that dam removal is the only option.

"The region has implemented $17 billion in improvements designed to benefit salmon populations and stakeholders are always looking to improve the river system for its multiple uses, which include fish passage, hydroelectric generation capacity, navigation capacity and recreation," Ellis said. "We are seeing some of the benefits of those investments in the river system in the most recent salmon run numbers."

Matthew Weaver
Inslee-Murray Report: Snake River Dam Breaching Not Feasible Now
Capital Press, August 26, 2022

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