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'It's Just Not Working':
Republican Slams Salmon Regime

by Jeremy P. Jacobs
E&E News, March 11, 2020

"Salmon need one thing," Simpson said. "They need a river."

Lower Granite Dam impounds Snake River waters nearly forty miles to the Idaho border. When a fellow Republican brought up the Pacific Northwest's hydropower system yesterday, Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson couldn't help himself.

Rep. Dan Newhouse of Washington had just commended the Army Corps of Engineers for completing a long-awaited environmental analysis of the hydropower system on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

"We want to do this right," said Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, who noted the importance of balancing the region's needs, including power generation, navigation and irrigation.

It set Simpson off.

"Nobody mentioned fish," he said during the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee hearing.

"Nobody mentioned salmon that come back to Idaho. That if in the next 15 years something isn't done, they will be extinct," he said. "There is no doubt about that. They will be extinct."

At the end of February, the Army Corps, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration released a draft environmental impact statement on the hydropower dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers.

A federal court has struck down their management of the region's many dams five times, ruling they were violating the Endangered Species Act by harming the once-prolific salmon and steelhead runs of the region.

Now, many of those runs are listed under the ESA, particularly the ones that swim up the Snake River into Simpson's Idaho.

In a May 2016 decision, the court required the agencies to consider breaching four dams on the Lower Snake River in eastern Washington long considered by conservationists to be the straw that breaks the camel's back for the fish. The draft EIS did not endorse that option (Greenwire, Feb. 28). Simpson repeatedly said he hadn't planned to talk about the issue at the hearing, and he acknowledged how important those dams are to Newhouse's district, which is home to farmers who rely on the river to barge and export their goods.

But he quickly went on to question the EIS process and its recommendation to increase spill over the dams to help the fish -- a variation on a program that has been underway for years.

"We are not looking at the whole picture here," Simpson said. "We are trying to preserve what exists instead of saying what do we want to do for the next 20 or 40 years."

He added: "It's just not working."

Last April, Simpson gave an impassioned speech in Idaho in which he raised questions about salmon, speaking about them in glowing terms.

He also questioned the future of the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency that sells the power produced by the dams. It is facing significant financial challenges as solar, wind and natural gas are now as cheap, or nearly as cheap, as Bonneville's hydropower (Greenwire, Sept. 3, 2019). Newhouse later responded, saying he was also interested in recovering the salmon runs. And he shot back at Simpson that years ago, Idaho's Department of Fish and Game took actions that limited salmon migration into the state.

"There were intentional decisions made in the state of Idaho," he said, "that the salmon were not welcome" because fishermen preferred trout.

Simpson didn't back down.

"Discussing the 60- to 70-year-old history of what the Idaho Fish and Game did doesn't really help us recover salmon today," he said.

And again he chastised parties for protecting the status quo instead of thinking of new solutions.

Everything on the Columbia River -- the power generation, fish mitigation, measures, transpiration -- "can be done differently if we choose to do it differently," he said.

"Salmon need one thing," Simpson said. "They need a river."

Related Pages:
Snake River Dam Removal: Idaho Congressman Makes the Case to Save Salmon by Ben Long, Outdoor Life, 4/30/19
An Idaho Republican is Asking the Right Questions About Northwest Salmon by Tom France, Crosscut, 4/29/19
Leaders React to Dam Breaching Comments by Eric Barker, Lewiston Tribune, 4/27/19
Simpson Stops Short of Calling for Dam Removal to Save Salmon. But He Is Asking, 'What If?' by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 4/25/19
Congressman Mike Simpson says He's Determined to See Fish Runs Recovered in His Lifetime by Eric Barker, Lewiston Tribune, 4/25/19
'I Want Salmon Back in Idaho.' Simpson Seeks Bold Action After $16 Billion Spent on Recovery by Cynthia Sewell, Idaho Statesman, 4/23/19

Jeremy P. Jacobs
'It's Just Not Working': Republican Slams Salmon Regime
E&E News, March 11, 2020

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