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Letter to NOAA Shows How Far Snake Dam
Opponents Will Go to Control the Narrative

by Editorial Board
Tri-City Herald, June 22, 2023

Musical director Brook Black of Pasco leads a rendition of With partisan politics now driving the narrative in the Snake River dams debate, Monday's Congressional field hearing in the Tri-Cities is more critical than ever.

Only Congress has the authority to breach the dams, so it is imperative that U.S. lawmakers get a chance to see the dams for themselves and talk with the people who manage them directly.

Eastern Washington Republican Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers will lead members of the House Committee on Natural Resources on a tour of Ice Harbor Dam before the public hearing, which begins at 1 p.m. at Richland High School.

In light of a recent effort by several pro-breaching organizations to muzzle regional NOAA representatives, this meeting couldn't come at a better time.

A story published last month by the Capital Press took a hard look at how the salmon in the Snake River are faring, and the article apparently didn't sit well with those determined to see the dams breached.

The article quoted Ritchie Graves, Columbia Hydropower Branch chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who said that for every 100 young Chinook and steelhead that head downstream and past the four Snake River dams, about 75 survive the trip.

Graves went on to say "that's pretty good" and that, "In a lot of river systems, that would be something they would shoot for," according to the Capital Press.

Also in the article, Graves confirmed that the dams are achieving NOAA performance standards with 96% survival of yearling Chinook and steelhead, and 93% for Chinook less than a year old. In addition, the survival rate is 90% for adult fish swimming upstream.

In response to these and other statements made by Graves, and by NOAA spokesman Michael Milstein, 13 environmental and fishing groups sent a letter to the NOAA administrator in Washington, D.C.

They requested the head office provide "a correction" to the Capital Press that would clarify the "significance of the dams in salmon and steelhead mortality."

The letter also said, "We expect NOAA to correct the record and continue advocating in public and private for solutions" regarding the restoration of fish runs.

Essentially, these pro-breaching groups didn't like that the NOAA biologist who works in the trenches and actually monitors the Snake dams didn't parrot the party line -- so to speak.

This letter is concerning for a variety of reasons.

For years, NOAA studies showed that breaching the Snake dams would make negligible improvements to salmon runs.

But last year, in an unprecedented move, the Biden Administration launched another look at the issue and, among other actions, called for removing the four lower Snake River dams.

In its "Rebuilding Salmon and Steelhead in the Columbia River Basin" report, NOAA called dam removal the "centerpiece action" for fish restoration.

At the time of the report's release, Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, said the final NOAA document was written in collaboration with groups that have campaigned for years for dam removal.

Now it appears those same groups -- or at least those with similar interests -- don't want any NOAA official to provide a narrative that could weaken their myopic, pro-breaching position.

First of all, expecting NOAA officials in Washington, D.C., to publicly override the opinion of a front-line branch chief takes some nerve.

If the head office complies, it affirms the idea that the "Rebuilding" report is more about political posturing than finding solutions.

Second of all, this letter comes off like an attempt to silence a reporter's source and that's also inappropriate -- especially when that source has the data and first-hand knowledge.

We care deeply about restoring salmon runs and the environment. Considering that salmon survival along the entire west coast of North America has fallen by 65% from north Canada on down, there is clearly something besides the Snake dams affecting our fish.

The more lawmakers who see how the dams operate, the better. The upcoming field hearing is a good start.

You just can't beat getting first-hand knowledge.

Editorial Board
Letter to NOAA Shows How Far Snake Dam Opponents Will Go to Control the Narrative
Tri-City Herald, June 22, 2023

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