Republican representatives, led by Representative Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., introduced federal legislation on Thursday to protect the lower four Snake River dams from breaching.
The bill was introduced just hours before a study project commissioned by Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., and her colleague Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, to be disclosed.
The draft study concluded that it would be expensive – 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 the tribes, the preliminary study said.
The introduction of the “Federal Columbia River Power System Certainty Act” also followed an Emergency Statement this week by President Biden, saying that an emergency exists “with respect to threats to the availability of sufficient electricity generating capacity to meet expected customer demand.” ”. Newhouse pointed.
He disagreed with the draft report, saying the science clearly shows that breaking the four Snake River dams in Washington state would be harmful to eastern Washington communities, the environment and the economy.
“In the midst of a national energy and supply chain crisis, it is inconceivable that dam-breaking advocates, including Governor Inslee and Senator Murray, will repeatedly try to force a predetermined and unscientific conclusion that will put our already struggling communities at risk,” he said. said Newhouse.
The bill introduced by Republicans in Congress on Thursday requires that dams on the Snake River hydroelectric dams, 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 requests to breach the four lower dams on the Snake River and instead recommended pouring more water over the dams in the Columbia River hydrosystem to help the salmon.
Joining Newhouse to present the project were representatives 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.
“To call for the removal of the four lower Snake River dams after three consecutive years of improved salmon returns is a mistake,” said McMorris Rodgers. “What’s alarming is trying to violate them at a time when families in eastern Washington are paying record energy costs just to keep the lights on this summer.”
The new preliminary report commissioned by Inslee and Murray said the return percentage of adult salmon is below the sustainability level.
Reaction to the draft report was predictably mixed.
Keep the snake dams
The preliminary report adds to western energy uncertainty, said the Public Power Council, an association of more than 100 consumer-owned electricity companies in the Pacific Northwest.
“The risks of extreme electricity prices and blackouts are the highest since the Western energy crisis occurred 20 years ago – and the removal of LSRDs dramatically increases the risk of rising prices, higher carbon emissions and blackouts,” he said.
Replacing the dams will take decades and available technology cannot provide the same combination of low cost, reliability and flexibility, he said.
Northwest RiverPartners criticized the report for not considering climate change.
“Any serious analysis should be centered on whether an action moves us closer or further away from our emissions targets,” said Kurt Miller, chief executive officer of Northwest RiverPartners, which represents Northwest’s electric utilities, waterway transportation and agricultural interests. .
The dam failure draft report failed to recognize that there is no way to replace hydropower in the foreseeable future and meet carbon reduction targets without regular blackouts and higher costs for consumers, he said.
Nearly 90% of the region’s renewable energy comes from hydroelectric power, according to Northwest RiverPartners.
The biggest threats to salmon survival are not dams but the effects of climate change on ocean conditions, the group said.
The Association of Washington Business said clean and affordable hydropower is one of the region’s key competitive advantages to attract the industry.
With fish survival rates between 95% and 98% in the Snake River dams, studies should look at what lessons they can provide to improve fish survival rates in other dams that do not have a dedicated fish passage, the Association of Washington Business.
The preliminary report oversimplified the impacts of the dam failure and failed to recognize the “inability and improbability of actually replacing its benefits,” said the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, a trade group that includes ports and companies.
Rejects the conclusions of the draft report, he said.
Tribes: Breaking the dams
But environmental, commercial and recreational fishing groups and tribes praised Murray-Inslee’s preliminary report.
“Yakama Nation views short-term dam removal as a critical part of a comprehensive solution for salmon in the Columbia and Snake River basins,” said Delano Saluskin, president of the Yakama Tribal Council.
The Yakama Nation sympathizes with the concerns of the energy and agriculture sectors, said Phil Rigdon, superintendent of natural resources at Yakama Nation.
Tribes also need affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible energy and transportation options, he said. But the preliminary report shows that the lower Snake River dams can be removed and the industries that rely on the dams can thrive and do business in new ways if they are properly supported, he said.
The Confederate Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation have urged the US government to fulfill its treaty obligations by prioritizing salmon recovery and breaching dams from the Ice Harbor Dam near the Tri-Cities upriver to the Lower Granite Dam near of 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.
It historically produced half of the spring/summer chinook salmon and summer trout in the Columbia system, he said.
“Today’s draft report brings us one step closer to damming the lower Snake River to stop the extinction of southern resident salmon and orcas,” said Miles Johnson, senior attorney at Columbia Riverkeeper.
The endangered southern resident orca population feeds primarily on chinook along the coast of Washington.
The draft report makes clear that wild salmon are in trouble, with no significant increase in their abundance since the 1990s, when most were listed under the Endangered Species Act, according to the Idaho Conservation League.
“Removing dams would significantly improve fish populations,” he said. “Dam services can be replaced through investments in energy, transport and irrigation infrastructure.”
Murray and Inslee must act before it’s too late, the Idaho Conservation League said.
This story was originally published June 9, 2022 6:11 pm