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April 11, 2021

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Inslee praises bold thinking in $33 billion proposal to breach 4 Snake River dams

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KENNEWICK — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee praised an Idaho U.S. congressman for his proposal to spend $33 billion to breach the four lower Snake River dams.

The money would cover dismantling the earthen portions of the dams to let water flow freely, building new energy and transportation systems and addressing the economic impact of the loss of the dams.

“Washington welcomes Rep. (Mike) Simpson’s willingness to think boldly about how to recover Columbia and Snake River salmon in a way that works for the entire region and invests — at a potentially transformative level — in clean energy, transportation and agriculture,” Inslee said in a statement Tuesday.

Simpson, an Idaho Republican, is concerned about the low return of endangered salmon that must swim as far as 900 miles, including past eight hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, to reach the ocean and to spawn in Idaho.

The Columbia Basin Collaborative, led by the governors of Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana, must play a prominent role in the formation and implementation of a comprehensive plan for the future of the Columbia and Snake rivers, Inslee said.

The collaborative group can complement and inform Congressional efforts to help the four states recover salmon while protecting and enhancing clean, reliable and affordable energy, plus work on transportation systems and help farmers and shippers, he said.

“Conversations among different interests and across party lines are essential to identifying creative solutions that work for salmon, energy and the economy,” he said. “This is important — to Washington’s tribes, people, economy and culture.”

Inslee will be working with the state’s congressional delegation to make sure the needs of Washington state are fully met, he said.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., opposes removing the dams. And he was joined last week in a resolution of support for existing and new hydropower by Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jaime Herrera Beutler in Washington state and Russ Fulcher in Idaho.

Tri-Cities area leaders were generally dubious about the proposal despite large amounts of money proposed to be used for economic development and compensation in the Tri-Cities area.

Tri-Cities concerns

Money includes $600 million to further develop the Tri-Cities into a transportation hub, $750 million for irrigation mitigation and $75 million for Tri-Cities area economic development. A new Snake River Center for Advanced Energy Storage would be established by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, likely at a branch campus in the Lewiston-Clarkston area.

The $33 billion also include $10 billion to replace the power generated by the four dams.

But Tri-Cities leaders are concerned about whether long-term battery storage of wind and solar or small modular reactor technology would be ready to provide a clean energy replacement for the dam’s hydropower within a decade.

More trucks and trains would pollute the air and add traffic in the Tri-Cities and down the Columbia River Gorge if barging can no longer be done up and down the Snake River to as far inland as the Lewiston-Clarkston area.

They also questioned whether tearing out the four dams — which have modern fish passage systems — would substantially increase endangered salmon numbers.

“Given the Pacific Coast-wide declines in salmon survival in both dammed and undammed rivers, it is hard to make the case that breaching dams with advanced fish passage technology will reverse this disturbing trend,” said Kurt Miller executive director of Northwest RiverPartners.

Tribes, environmental concerns

But tribes and fishing and environmental groups are more certain of the benefits of Simpson’s proposal.

“We have reached a tipping point where we must choose between our Treaty-protected salmon and the federal dams, and we choose salmon,” said Delano Saluskin, Yakama Nation Tribal Council chairman. “We applaud Congressman Simpson for taking this important step towards protecting our salmon runs for future generations.”

A coalition of 11 groups working on conservation and other environmental causes in the West called for members of Congress and Northwest governors to offer their ideas on Simpson’s proposal to include in a national infrastructure bill.

Simpson has provided a blueprint for the largest river and salmon restoration effort in history, which would also create jobs and strengthen the energy and agriculture sectors, said Chris Hager, executive director of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders.

“Salmon are the lifeblood of Northwest cultures, economies and ecosystems,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper. “We welcome Congressman Mike Simpson’s serious and comprehensive proposal to recover Northwest salmon, honor tribal rights and interests, and modernize our region’s energy and infrastructure systems.”

Sam Mace, Inland Northwest director of Save our Wild Salmon, called Simpson’s proposal a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Idaho Conservation League American Rivers, the National Wildlife Federation, Idaho Rivers United, the Sierra Club, the Endangered Species Coalition, the Idaho Conservation League, Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council also praised Simpson’s proposal.

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