the film
Commentaries and editorials

Newhouse Files Bill to Save Snake Dams.
Reaction to Latest Dam Breaching Report Swift

by Annette Cary
Tri-City Herald, June 10, 2022

Republican representatives, led by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., introduced federal legislation on Thursday to protect the four lower Snake River dams from being breached.

The bill was introduced just hours before a draft study commissioned by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and fellow Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, was released.

The draft study concluded that it would be costly -- perhaps requiring more than $27 billion -- but the dams could be breached and their benefits replaced. It would be the action most likely to restore endangered salmon runs and benefit tribes, the draft study said.

The introduction of the "Federal Columbia River Power System Certainty Act" also followed a Declaration of Emergency this week by President Biden, saying an emergency exists "with respect to the threats to the availability of sufficient electricity generation capacity to meet expected customer demand," Newhouse pointed out.

He disagreed with the draft report, saying that science clearly shows that breaching the four Snake River dams in Washington state would be harmful to the communities in Eastern Washington, the environment and the economy.

"Amidst a national energy and supply chain crisis, it is unconscionable that dam-breaching advocates, including Gov. Inslee and Sen. Murray, repeatedly attempt to force a predetermined, unscientific conclusion that will put our communities who are already struggling at risk," Newhouse said.

The bill introduced by Republicans in Congress on Thursday requires the dams on the hydropower dams on the Snake River, plus those below it on the Columbia River, be operated as outlined in the federal environmental impact statement released in 2020 after four years of study.

The 2020 study rejected calls to breach the four lower Snake River dams and instead recommended spilling more water over dams in the Columbia River hydrosystem to help salmon.

Joining Newhouse to introduce the bill were Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jaime Herrera Beutler, both in Washington; Cliff Bentz in Oregon; Russ Fulcher in Idaho and additional members of the Congressional Western Caucus.

"Calling for the removal of the four lower Snake River dams after three straight years of improved salmon returns is misguided," McMorris Rodgers said. "What's alarming is trying to breach them at a time when families in Eastern Washington are paying record-high energy costs just to keep the lights on this summer."

The new draft report ordered by Inslee and Murray said that the percentage of returning adult salmon is below the level of sustainability.

Reaction to the draft report was predictably mixed.


The draft report heightens Western energy uncertainty, said the Public Power Council, an association of more than 100 consumer-owned electric utilities in the Pacific Northwest.

"The risks of extreme electricity prices and blackouts are the highest they have been since the Western Energy Crisis took place 20 years ago -- and removing the LSRDs dramatically increases the risk of soaring prices, higher carbon emissions and blackouts," it said.

Replacing the dams will take decades and available technology cannot provide the same combination of low cost, reliability and flexibility, it said.

Northwest RiverPartners faulted the report for not considering climate change.

"Any serious analysis must be centered on whether an action moves us closer to or farther away from our emissions goals," said Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, which represents Northwest electric utilities, plus river transportation and agriculture interests.

The draft report on breaching dams did not recognize that there is no way to replace hydroelectric power in the foreseeable future and meet carbon reduction goals without regular blackouts and higher costs for consumers, he said.

Nearly 90% of the region's renewable energy comes from hydropower, according to Northwest RiverPartners.

The biggest threats to salmon survival are not from the dams but from the effects of climate change on ocean conditions, the group said.

The Association of Washington Business said that clean and affordable hydropower is one of the region's primary competitive advantages to attract industry.

With fish survival rates between 95% to 98% at lower Snake River dams, studies should be looking at what lessons they can provide to improve fish survival rates at other dams that lack dedicated fish passage, the Association of Washington Business said.

The draft report oversimplified the impacts of dam breaching and failed to recognize the "inability and improbability of truly replacing their benefits," said the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, a trade group that includes ports and businesses.

It rejects the draft report's conclusions, it said.


But tribes and environmental and commercial and recreational fishing groups praised the Murray-Inslee draft report.

"The Yakama Nation sees near-term dam removal as a critical part of a comprehensive salmon solution in the Columbia and Snake River Basins," said Delano Saluskin, Yakama Tribal Council chairman.

The Yakama Nation sympathize with the concerns of those in the power and agricultural industries, said Phil Rigdon, Yakama Nation superintendent of natural resources.

Tribes also need affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible power and transportation options, he said. But the draft report shows that the lower Snake River dams can be removed and the industries that depend on the dams can thrive and get business done in new ways if properly supported, he said.

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation called on the U.S. government to uphold its treaty obligations by prioritizing salmon recovery and breaching the dams from Ice Harbor Dam near the Tri-Cities upriver to Lower Granite Dam near Lewiston, Idaho.

The Snake River has, by far, the greatest potential for wild fish recovery of any watershed in the Columbia Basin, said Trout Unlimited.

Historically, it produced half of the spring/summer chinook salmon and summer steelhead in the Columbia system, it said.

"Today's draft report brings us another step closer to un-damming the lower Snake River to stop the extinction of salmon and southern resident orcas," said Miles Johnson, senior attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper.

The endangered southern resident orca whale population feeds primarily on chinook along the Washington coast.

The draft report is clear that wild salmon are in dire straits, without a significant increase in their abundance since the 1990s when most were listed under the Endangered Species Act, according to the Idaho Conservation League.

"Dam removal would significant improve fish populations," it said. "The dams services can be replaced through investment in energy, transportation and irrigation infrastructure."

Murray and Inslee must act before it is too late, the Idaho Conservation League said.

Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She's been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.
Newhouse Files Bill to Save Snake Dams. Reaction to Latest Dam Breaching Report Swift
Tri-City Herald, June 10, 2022

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation