the film
Commentaries and editorials

The Snake River Dams --
To Breach or Not To Breach?

by John Kruse
The Goldendale Sentinel, February 24, 2021

Congressman Mike Simpson from Idaho unveiled an Energy Salmon Concept earlier this month,
including $10 billion to be given to the BPA to develop replacement energy sources.

In retrospect, the number of returning adult salmon was relatively level from 1938 through 1990.  The precipitous loss of returning chinook entering the Snake River (Figure 20) accounts for a major share of the decline that has occurred in total return to the Columbia -- Artificial Production Review, NW Power & Conservation Council It’s been an ongoing discussion for 30 years. Should we breach the four Lower Snake River dams to save dwindling runs of salmon and steelhead? The question has been repeatedly litigated in court, as have efforts to mitigate dam operations to help smolt survive their journey downstream and adult fish survive their journey upstream through eight dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers to spawn in the Snake, the Salmon, the Clearwater, the Grande Ronde, and other tributaries.

A number of Democrat Party lawmakers, including Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, have called for removal of the dams in recent years, but for the first time a Republican is also calling for this to happen. Congressman Mike Simpson from Idaho unveiled an Energy Salmon Concept earlier this month. It’s a proposal calling for $33.5 billion to be spent breaching the four dams and then making the region economically whole. Simpson points out in his proposal that $17 billion have already been spent on salmon and steelhead on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, and we continue to lose ground. Simpson argues while a $33.5 billion (minimum) price tag is a lot, the alternative is to spend another $20 billion in the next 30 years and watch Chinook and sockeye salmon runs in Idaho rivers go extinct. The proposal received immediate support from a number of conservation and fishing organizations, including Trout Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation, the American Sportfishing Association, and the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

There are also those who oppose this measure, including Washington Republican Congresswomen Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jaime Herrera Beutler and Congressman Dan Newhouse. In a recent opinion piece, Newhouse wrote, "The benefits of the dams stretch far beyond clean energy generation and affordable power. From irrigation for our region’s farmers to transportations of goods and flood control, the benefits are countless."

Another group that opposes the removal of these dams is the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association. Executive Director Kristin Meira points out 10 percent of wheat exports in the United States are barged down the Snake River, something that couldn’t be done if the dams are breached. Meira says using roads and rails to transport these goods will have a large carbon impact and would be less safe than using barges. Meira also believes ocean conditions caused by climate change as well as urban runoff are contributing more to the decline of these runs, not only on the Snake River but in many places in the Pacific Northwest, and questions whether removing the dams will actually save these fish.

The proposal calls for removing the dams by 2031 and $10 billion to be given to the Bonneville Power Administration to develop replacement energy sources. The proposal also calls for the establishment of the Lower Snake River National Recreation Area after the dams are breached, an area that, like the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, would be used by anglers, hunters, jet boaters, rafters, wildlife watchers, and campers. A total of $450 million would be spent to promote tourism in the region, for outdoor recreational activities and to move marinas currently in place on the Snake that would be left high and dry by dam breaching.

Congressman Simpson makes clear this proposal is not a bill or pending bill. However, it certainly is a starting point for a bipartisan group of lawmakers to draft a bill along the lines of this proposal. With the Democratic Party in control, and several senior Democrat senators and governors in a position to help push this through, this proposal could gain some quick momentum in the weeks ahead. You can find out more about Simpson’s Energy Salmon Concept online here.

Related Pages:
Public Comment and Federal Responses, 45-day comment period of 8,000 page CRSO EIS, by bluefish during the Covid-19 Lockdown, 2020.

John Kruse
The Snake River Dams -- To Breach or Not To Breach?
The Goldendale Sentinel, February 24, 2021

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