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Commentaries and editorials

Washington State Leaders
to Probe Dam Alternatives

by Eric Barker
Yahoo News, October 23, 2021

Lower Granite Dam impounds Snake River waters nearly forty miles to the Idaho border. Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray intend to announce next summer whether they support breaching the four lower Snake River dams as a necessary measure to save salmon and steelhead.

In the meantime, the two powerful Washington Democrats will launch an effort to identify if there are reasonable replacements for the electricity generation, transportation and irrigation made possible by the dams.

"We approach this question with open minds and without a predetermined decision. Both of us believe that for the region to move forward, the time has come to identify specific details for how the impacts of breach can or cannot be mitigated."

Even so, Murray said she will seek to secure authorization of a cost and impact analysis of breaching the dams in the biennial Fiscal Year 2022 Water Resources Development Act. The analysis is a procedural step necessary to move forward with breaching. According to the statement, Murray is pursuing the analysis to ensure all options remain available.

"Without this critical step, options that may be essential to salmon restoration could be excluded from the most timely and viable federal legislative vehicle."

Many fisheries scientists say breaching the dams is necessary to recover the wild runs of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead that return to the river and its tributaries. But breaching would eliminate the tub-and-barge transportation many farmers rely on to move their crops to market and reduce power production at the dams.

The announcement came a day after the Biden Administration and a coalition that includes the Nez Perce Tribe, conservation groups and the state of Oregon, which is suing the federal government over its latest salmon and dams management plan, agreed to pause the litigation and seek alternative solutions to salmon recovery. That timeout and the Inslee-Murray process are both scheduled to conclude on July 31.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who earlier this year unveiled a $33.5 billion plan to breach the dams and mitigate affected communities and industries, did not respond to a request for comment. Murray and Inslee thanked Simpson for his effort at the time of his announcement but ultimately did not support funding the idea in President Biden's infrastructure legislation.

Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkely, who also did not back Simpson's concept, welcomed the effort from their fellow Democrats.

"We look forward to working with Senator Murray and Governor Inslee as they build on previous efforts and bring all interested parties to the table to address salmon recovery, irrigation, dam use, as well as power and transportation needs."

At the same time, Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dan Newhouse and Jaime Herrera Beutler, from central and eastern Washington, issued a statement saying the public and key river users have been left out of the discussions and waved a red flag over the July 31 synchronicity of the litigation stay and the expected announcement of Inslee's and Murray's decision.

"This appears to be nothing more than a predetermined backdoor deal in the making, and it should sound the alarm for anyone interested in transparency and a balanced public dialogue over the vital role the dams play in the Pacific Northwest," the Republican lawmakers said. "There is something fishy going on, and it's not just the promising salmon returns we are seeing on the lower Snake River."

The lawmakers contend that, because some Snake River spring chinook dominated by hatchery fish have increased from critical lows in 2019, breaching is unwarranted. The runs still remain below the 10-year average and far below criteria that would make them eligible for delisting under the Endangered Species Act.

Nez Perce Tribal Chairman Samuel N. Penney welcomed the statement from Murray and Inslee. The tribe has worked over the past eight months to rally support for dam removal and Simpsons's concept. In April the tribe released an analysis showing nearly 50 percent of Snake River spring chinook populations were at serious risk of extinction. Penney said dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers were built on the homelands of Columbia Basin tribes.

When that destructive history is truly understood, the modesty of the present request is plain, and the science supporting it is clear: Salmon need a free-flowing, climate-resilient lower Snake River, not a series of slow, easily-warmed reservoirs."

Justin Hayes of the Idaho Conservation League said Inslee and Murray's effort needs to produce fish-saving actions.

"We expect Sen. Murray to be prepared to use (the Water Resources Development Act.) to deauthorize the lower Snake River dams, not to create yet another study showing that dam breaching is possible and necessary to restore Snake River salmon and steelhead to abundance."

Kurt Miller, executive director of the Northwest River Partners said Inslee and Murray appear to have their minds made up.

"We don't want to dig a deeper hole in our efforts to reduce our region's carbon footprint. We're concerned that the Murray-Inslee announcement seems to reframe the issue of the lower Snake dams on whether their services can be replaced instead of whether they should be replaced."

Eric Barker
Washington State Leaders to Probe Dam Alternatives
Yahoo News, October 23, 2021

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