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Clashing Over Dams and Salmon
Nothing New for Simpson, Newhouse

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, May 7, 2021

Congressmen have been on opposite sides of issue in recent years, and are both scheduled to speak at virtual conference

Lower Granite Dam in SE Washington state impounds the Lower Snake forty miles up beyond the Idaho border. Rep. Mike Simpson has clashed with at least one of his Republican colleagues in the past over his view that saving Idaho's salmon and steelhead runs requires breaching of Snake River dams.

Last year, he and Rep. Dan Newhouse, of Sunnyside, Wash., sparred during an Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation budget request hearing before the House subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies. The hearing was about a year after Simpson had all but announced his support for dam removal at an Andrus Center Conference in Boise. It was also well known at the time he was talking with stakeholders about ideas that would eventually form the basis of his $33 billion proposal to save salmon and steelhead by breaching the dams while also investing in affected communities and industries.

River of Change

Simpson unveiled that plan, which he calls a concept, in February. Newhouse, along with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, announced their opposition to it in a news release, even before Simpson made the plan public.

During the congressional hearing in 2020, Newhouse and Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, chief of the Corps, discussed what at that time was a draft environmental impact statement looking at the interplay between protected salmon and the many federal dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers.

"At the end of the day, it's about how do we balance the environment with all the other needs like navigation, hydropower and irrigation," Semonite said in describing the document that found breaching the dams was not needed.

Simpson stood to offer critique of their conversation.

"I noticed you all mentioned hydropower, irrigation and transportation and how important those are. Nobody mentioned fish. Nobody mentioned salmon that come back to Idaho, that in the next 15 years, if something isn't done, they will be extinct. There is no doubt about that, they will be extinct."

Simpson concluded with remarks he has made several times since then, basically saying there are other ways to produce hydropower and ship grain but only one way to save the fish.

"Everything we do, we can do differently. Salmon need one thing -- they need a river."

During the exchange, the two Republicans expressed their fondness for each other, even though they disagree on the dams.

Both Simpson and Newhouse are slated to take part in a sequel to the 2019 Andrus Center Conference on Thursday. Titled "Energy, Salmon, Agriculture and Community: Revisited," the half-day event will examine what has happened in the two years since Simpson pledged that he would live long enough to see Redfish Lake in the shadow of the Sawtooth Mountains once again team with sockeye salmon.

There isn't likely to be the same type of exchange at the conference though. Newhouse is scheduled to talk at 10:20 a.m. PDT and Simpson will speak at 11 a.m. PDT. Because of the pandemic, the conference participants will deliver their remarks remotely.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, Ore., and Shannon Wheeler, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, will provide back-to-back opening remarks at the conference. Earlier this week, Simpson discussed his plan with Blumenauer during a virtual town hall meeting. Blumenauer has praised the plan but said he has issues with some provisions, such as the proposed 35-year moratorium on litigation related to the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act at other dams on the Snake and Columbia river basin.

The conference will also include a panel discussion featuring David Reeploeg, of the Tri-Cities Development Council; Debra Smith, general manager of Seattle City and Light; Chris Wood, president of Trout Unlimited; and Lynda Mapes, environmental reporter for the Seattle Times.

More information about the conference is available at

Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committe on Appropriations
House of Representatives
One Hundred Sixteenth Congress, Second Session

. . .

Mr. Simpson. Thank you, Chairwoman.

I wasn't going to say anything about this, but it is always a fascinating discussion on the Columbia River Basin. I notice you all mentioned hydropower, irrigation, and transportation, how important those are. Nobody mentioned fish. Nobody mentioned salmon that come back to Idaho that, if in the next 15 years something isn't done, they will be extinct. There is no doubt about that. They will be extinct. So we can talk about all that.

And we never talked about the 487,000-acre feet of water that Idaho sends out of my district down to flush salmon over those dams, and the one thing they are not doing is recovering salmon, but they are keeping water in the pool so that we can irrigate in Washington. So we sometimes have a little different take on this.

Representative Newhouse and I could sit here for hours and talk about this. I understand how important that is to his district. And I guess if you don't live in an area where the Olympians of salmon come back to spawn in Idaho, then you really don't care about it. But people better start looking at this seriously, and any plan we come up with, any EIS, had better recover salmon. Now they got a new plan out here the flexible spill thing. The one thing it will not do is speed up the migration of salmon to the Pacific Ocean, which is now about twice as long as it used to be.

We don't have a Columbia River anymore. We have a series of pools the fish now have to swim to. It takes them twice as long, warmer water, more predators. We are not looking at the whole picture here. We are trying to preserve what exists instead of saying, what do we want to do for the next 20 or 40 years? What do we want this to look like in 20 or 40 years? Do the people of the Pacific Northwest want to lose the salmon runs? If you do, then fine. Make the determination. Let's quit spending $750,000 a year--million dollars a year every year now by the ratepayers at Bonneville Power to recover salmon.

It is just not working. People have got to get out of their niches and start looking at what we want to do in the future. That was a subject that I wasn't going to bring up, but as you can tell, I feel a little passionately about it.

Assistant Secretary James and General Semonite, as you know, the 2008 compensatory mitigation rule established a hierarchy of mitigation with a preference for the use of wetland banks, which was established--which have established credits already in place as approved by the Corps. According to the publicly available data, there is a wide disparity of the use of mitigation banks against--across Corps districts.

Do you know what is causing that disparity, and do you agree that it would be useful to take a look at this issue to see if there are majors that would provide better consistency and adherence to the hierarchy in the rule?

Mr. James. I will let General Semonite elaborate on that, but from my understanding, there is not enough wetland mitigation banks in our country right now, and the Corps is working on that. They are working with individuals and other public entities to raise the number.

The other thing is, is in some areas of the country, in some Corps of Engineer district areas, the people there for one reason or another would rather have their mitigation in the area of the project. Not everybody wants to buy from a mitigation bank, and as we all know, once they put in a mitigation bank, you better get your wallet out because the mitigation is going to cost you.

Mr. Simpson. Yes.

Mr. James. And that is the reasons that I know of personally. That is not in my policy head. These are just things that I picked up over my years of service here.

Mr. Simpson. OK.

General Semonite. Sir, we certainly are looking at this right now. We want to continue to look at it and have a dialogue with you. Three main reasons why there is some disparity out there, and these banks are all based on every part of the country is a little bit different. First of all, what functions are needed in the watershed? What is environmentally preferable for offsetting functions lost through permitted impacts? And, finally, the availability of mitigation bank credits. It is kind of like the secretary said.

This goes back to it has got be a tailored solution, and sometimes what might work in the Northwest doesn't work in the Southeast. But we are looking down through. There are some incentives we are looking at right now. We are trying to study this, and if we can find a way of doing this better, we are all in.

Mr. Simpson. Thank you.

Commissioner Burman, the budget request includes a bit of a reduction for Indian Water Rights Settlements overall, although some individual projects go up. What is the reason for the decreases? Is it due to the availability of mandatory funding? And at the request levels, are all the settlements on track to meet statutory deadlines?

Ms. Burman. Absolutely. Representative Simpson, Ranking Member Simpson, we absolutely are committed to our tribal obligations, and you see that in our budget. This past year, 2020, is the first year that mandatory funding through the Reclamation Settlement Fund has become available, and that is about $120 million a year. And so we have been able to put that to work this year. We announced that about a month ago, where that funding would be going for this year.

So when you look at our budget for 2021, it is to meet our responsibilities, and we have many settlements, many settlements that must be funded and complete by 2025. We believe we are on target. It is tough. It is difficult, but we are moving forward with those projects, and we do believe we are on target to meet our responsibilities.

Mr. Simpson. Let me just ask you, the budget request reduces funding for the authorized rural water projects. Some of these projects have components benefiting Tribes. How do the Tribes' projects' components factor into the budget request for rural water projects?

Ms. Burman. On the rural water project program, first and foremost, we meet our existing responsibilities, meaning our O&M, our operation and maintenance responsibilities. That is overwhelmingly on the Tribal side. Next, we look at the different projects that need construction, and we do look at our Tribal responsibilities as we move forward with that. I think you will see from our 2020 spend plan that we were able to put significant resources provided by Congress towards all of those rural water supply projects, and they are moving forward.

Mr. Simpson. Thank you.

Eric Barker
Clashing Over Dams and Salmon Nothing New for Simpson, Newhouse
Lewiston Tribune, May 7, 2021

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