Sunday, September 20, 2020
Sept. 20, 2020

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Bill in Congress seeks to preserve the Snake River dams


RICHLAND — A bipartisan bill has been introduced in Congress that seeks to prevent the breaching of the four Snake River dams in eastern Washington state.

The bill would keep in place the Federal Columbia River Biological Opinion until 2022. That’s a plan created by a collaboration of federal agencies, states and tribes to protect migrating salmon while continuing to operate the dams.

A federal judge has ruled that the biological opinion doesn’t do enough to rebuild endangered salmon and steelhead populations, the Tri-City Herald reported.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon of Portland, Oregon, has ordered a new environmental review, which is required to include a look at breaching the four Snake River dams.

The bill also would effectively overturn an April decision by Simon requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to spill more water for fish at eight Columbia and Snake river dams starting next year.

Environmentalists say the increased spill over the dams would deliver out-migrating juvenile salmon more quickly to the ocean.

But Northwest RiverPartners — which includes farmers, utilities, ports and businesses — said the bigger spill would increase electric bills in the Northwest, while doing little to help fish and possibly even harming them. Too much spill creates high gas levels in the water that can harm juvenile fish.

Sponsors of the House bill include U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse, both Washington Republicans.

“Removing the Snake River dams would be harmful to our communities, the environment and our economy,” Newhouse said. “This legislation is needed to support the critical role that Snake River dams play by providing Washington communities with clean, renewable hydropower.”

The Snake River dams play a role in flood control, navigation, irrigation and recreation, Newhouse said.

“There is still work to be done, but dams and fish can coexist,” McMorris Rodgers said.

The Northwest Energy Coalition, an alliance of environmental and other groups, said the bill was ill-timed, coming as adult returns to the Columbia and Snake rivers and their tributaries are expected to be lower this year than last.

“This legislative proposal is misguided, counter-productive and based on an extremely poor understanding of the plight of our salmon and any realistic changes to how Columbia Basin hydro-system would operate to better protect salmon,” said Bill Arthur of the Sierra Club.

In addition to McMorris Rodgers and Newhouse, the bill was introduced by Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash.; Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Greg Walden, R-Ore.