Biden Administration, Tribes, States Reach Agreement On Snake Dams


The Biden-Harris Administration today announced a historic agreement to work in partnership with Pacific Northwest Tribes and States to restore wild salmon populations, expand Tribally sponsored clean energy production, and provide stability for communities that depend on the Columbia River System.  Building on President Biden’s direction to Federal agencies, the agreement, when combined with other funding that the Administration is anticipated to deliver to the region, will bring more than $1 billion in new Federal investments to wild fish restoration over the next decade and enable an unprecedented 10-year break from decades-long litigation against the Federal government’s operation of its dams in the Pacific Northwest.

The agreement was filed in the Federal District Court in Oregon and sets commitments made by the Federal Government and implemented through a Memorandum of Understanding between the United States; the States of Oregon and Washington; the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Yakama Tribes; and environmental non-profit organizations.

Implementation of the agreement will diversify and develop affordable, clean, and reliable energy options for the region. Investments under this agreement will help to ensure continued energy reliability and affordability, transportation, recreation, irrigation, and other key services, including in the event that Congress decides to authorize breaching of the four Lower Snake River dams.

Today’s agreement follows a Presidential Memorandum issued by President Biden in September that – for the first time ever – directed Federal agencies to prioritize the restoration of healthy and abundant salmon, steelhead, and other native fish populations in the Columbia River Basin. It also builds on a historic agreement earlier this year to support Tribally led efforts to restore salmon in blocked habitats in the Upper Columbia Basin.

“President Biden understands that the Columbia River System is the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest, and for the first time under his direction, federal agencies are putting all hands on deck to support regional and Tribal efforts to restore wild salmon in the region. This agreement charts a new path to restore the river, provide for a clean energy future and the jobs that come with it, and live up to our responsibilities to Tribal Nations,” said Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. 

“Today’s historic agreement marks a new direction for the Pacific Northwest. Today, the Biden-Harris Administration and state and Tribal governments are agreeing to work together to protect salmon and other native fish, honor our obligations to Tribal nations, and recognize the important services the Columbia River System provides to the economy of the Pacific Northwest,” said John Podesta, Senior Advisor to the President for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation.

“The Pacific Northwest’s iconic salmon and steelhead are essential to our ecological and economic wealth, and a sacred part of Tribal ceremonial, spiritual, and subsistence practices since time immemorial. The Columbia River treaty reserved tribes exemplify steadfast leadership in salmon restoration and stewardship, forging a strong partnership with our states in a shared commitment to comanaging this precious natural resource for generations to come. This successful and unprecedented partnership between the six sovereigns and the United States government has established a shared vision and pathway forward for restoration in both the lower and upper Columbia River Basin. Oregon looks forward to continued collaboration on a successful restoration,” said Oregon Governor Tina Kotek.

“Leaders across the region have long recognized that inaction on the Columbia-Snake River would doom our iconic species, do irreversible harm to Tribal communities, and diminish our region’s economic future. This agreement between the U.S. government and the Six Sovereigns and NGO plaintiffs is that path forward. It is a durable, comprehensive product of determined leadership by all parties to help secure the long term economic, energy, and salmon recovery needs of our region,” said Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

This agreement honors Tribal treaty rights. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to honoring and respecting Tribal sovereignty, protecting Tribal homelands, and incorporating Indigenous Knowledge and robust Tribal consultation into planning and decision-making.

“As Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) we are bound to the salmon and the rivers – these are our life sources. We will not allow extinction to be an option for the salmon, nor for us. The United States is bound to salmon and to us by Treaty where we reserved all our fisheries – our Treaty is the supreme law of the land under the United States Constitution,” said Chairman Shannon F. Wheeler, Nez Perce Tribe. “The federal dams on the lower Snake and mainstem Columbia rivers have had – and continue to have – devastating impacts on the salmon and our people, burdening our Treaty partnership. So today, as Six Sovereigns joining together with the United States to advance salmon restoration throughout the Basin – including preparation for breach of the four lower Snake River dams – we are also witnessing the restoration of Tribal Treaties to their rightful place under the rule of law. We appreciate President Biden’s commitment to honor Tribal Treaties, and to work in partnership to restore healthy, abundant salmon throughout the Columbia Basin.”

“The Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative and the U.S. government’s commitments list represent many, many hours of collaboration. They not only address goals for healthy, abundant populations of fish to support Tribal treaty and non-tribal harvest, they also respect the future needs of the Columbia Basin in terms of preparing for climate variability, providing clean, reliable energy, transportation, and recreation. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation is very appreciative of the collaboration with the Six Sovereigns and our Federal partners, and looks forward to working together to advance the goals of healthy and abundant salmon for the benefit of current and future generations,” said Corinne Sams, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Board of Trustees Member, Fish & Wildlife Commission Chair and Chair of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission.

“For too long we have seen the federal government try to do the minimum amount necessary to pass legal muster under the Endangered Species Act,” said Jonathan W. Smith, Sr., Warm Springs Tribal Council Chairman. “This minimum effort approach has resulted in our fish populations limping along at depressed levels, oftentimes near-extinction and leaving us without enough salmon for our ceremonies, culture, and subsistence. We are optimistic that this first of its kind Presidential Memorandum on the Columbia Basin will chart a new course for the federal government that will lead to true restoration of our fisheries. There is no time to waste, and the Warm Springs Tribe is committed to working with the federal agencies, our fisheries co-managers and Columbia Basin stakeholders through this agreement to make sustainable healthy and abundant fish returns a reality.”

“Since time immemorial, the strength of the Yakama Nation and its people have come from Nch’í Wána – the Columbia River – and from the fish, game, roots and berries it nourishes. We have fought to protect and restore salmon because salmon are not just a natural resource, they are a cultural resource,” said Gerald Lewis, Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman. “Today the Biden Administration has announced its commitment to partner with us, our sister tribes, and our neighbors in the work that we have been doing, and will continue to do, to restore healthy and abundant salmon runs to the Columbia River. We can, and must, restore our salmon; and working together we can, and will, do so in a way that ensures our communities will have the energy and other resources they need for generations to come.”

As part of the agreement, the Biden-Harris Administration will invest $300 million over 10 years to restore native fish and their habitats throughout the Columbia River Basin, with added measures to increase the autonomy of States and Tribes to use these funds. The Administration will also facilitate the build-out of at least one to three gigawatts of Tribally-sponsored renewable energy production, increased flexibility for the hydrosystem, and studies of dam services.

The agreement keeps energy affordable by avoiding potentially significant rate increases from court ordered dam operations. The Bonneville Power Administration estimates that today’s agreement will have an annual average rate impact of 0.7 percent.

“The Columbia River System is an invaluable natural resource that is critical to many stakeholders in the Basin, including the Tribes who have relied on Pacific salmon, steelhead, and other native fish species for sustenance and their cultural and spiritual ways of life since time immemorial,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “As we commemorate today’s historic milestone, the Biden-Harris Administration remains committed to comprehensive and collaborative Basin-wide solutions to restoring salmon and other native fish populations. At every step of the way, Tribes will continue to have a seat at the table and be integral in our efforts to restore and protect these precious ecosystems.”

“For generations, the Columbia River Basin ecosystem has served as an integral economic and cultural cornerstone for communities and businesses throughout the Pacific Northwest — especially tribal communities,” said U.S. Deputy of Secretary David M. Turk. “Today’s historic agreement reinforces the Biden-Harris Administration commitment to honoring the Federal government’s treaty and trust responsibilities to Tribal Nations, and will provide long-term stability and operational reliability so that communities across the region can prosper for generations to come.”

“In the agreement signed today, BPA sought to provide our ratepayers operational certainty and reliability while avoiding costly, unpredictable litigation in support of our mission to provide a reliable, affordable power supply to the Pacific Northwest,” said John Hairston, Administrator and CEO of the Bonneville Power Administration.

“The Army Corps is proud to implement actions that will help restore habitat and fish populations in the Columbia River Basin while continuing our support for the regional economy. It is incredibly important that we do this work collaboratively with Tribal Nations to produce results that honor their treaty rights and our trust obligations, producing durable solutions that withstand the impacts of climate change,” said Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. “The Columbia River provides vital economic and environmental benefits to Tribal Nations, communities and businesses of the Pacific Northwest,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, PhD. “This path forward focuses on the restoration of healthy and abundant salmon, steelhead, and other native fish to meet the needs of the Columbia River Basin while helping ensure the United States upholds its treaty and trust responsibilities to the Tribes.”


An agreement to restore the Columbia Basin announced today by the White House, the States of Oregon and Washington and four Columbia Basin tribes marks a turning point in the long-standing effort to protect and restore Snake River salmon, an iconic Pacific Northwest species that could face extinction without action.

Based on a Tribal-state initiative backed by federal commitments, a coalition of fishing, conservation, and renewable energy groups, represented by Earthjustice in a lawsuit, have agreed, with the Biden administration, the states of Oregon and Washington and Nez Perce, Yakama, Warm Springs, and Umatilla Tribes, to seek a multi-year pause in Snake River litigation. The long-term litigation pause would allow for implementation of federal commitments supporting a groundbreaking new initiative advancing the recovery of salmon, steelhead and other Native fish populations throughout the Columbia River Basin. 

The new initiative, the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative (CBRI), developed by Washington, Oregon, and the four Columbia Basin Tribes, provides a comprehensive new roadmap for salmon recovery, including a call to replace the energy, transportation, irrigation, and recreation services provided by the lower Snake River dams so they can be breached. The Biden administration is supporting the bold new blueprint with federal commitments and a Memorandum of Understanding pledging to continue working together on next steps. 

The federal commitments will help accelerate the Pacific Northwest’s transition to truly clean energy by supporting new Tribal energy to replace the dams’ hydropower, providing regional economic opportunities and increasing resilience to climate change. Investments will be made to further habitat restoration, hatchery improvements, clean energy projects and planning, infrastructure improvements such as removing culverts and improving fish passage facilities, transportation, and more. New federal funding, detailed in this factsheet, totals more than a half billion dollars. 

The CBRI explicitly calls for the services of the lower Snake River dams to be replaced and then the dams breached within two fish generations (approximately 8 years) to avoid extinction and begin rebuilding salmon populations to healthy and harvestable levels. The federal commitments do not include a decision to breach the dams, but do include a commitment to begin to replace their services and to work in partnership on next steps. 

The CBRI and federal commitments signify a critical step forward toward honoring reserved federal Tribal Treaty obligations and recognizing the irreplaceable value salmon and other native fish hold for Tribes. The four Columbia Basin Tribes who developed the CBRI in collaboration with Oregon and Washington are the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation and the Nez Perce Tribe. 

Both the CBRI and the federal commitments build on bipartisan efforts including the report and recommendations from a joint federal-state process by Governor Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray, an earlier initiative by Rep. Mike Simpson, and funding allocated by the Washington Legislature last year to plan to replace and modernize transportation, irrigation and energy needs when the four lower Snake River dams are breached.

Earthjustice’s plaintiffs support the Biden administration commitments as a critical first step toward salmon recovery – and are committed to continuing to push for urgent action to rebuild imperiled fish populations, honor reserved Tribal treaty rights, and restore healthy ecosystems while supporting a robust Pacific Northwest economy. 

The following statements are from Earthjustice and our plaintiffs: 

“We are now on a path to breach the four Lower Snake River dams,” said Earthjustice Senior Attorney Amanda Goodin. “This marks a turning point in our decades-long litigation. Instead of attempting to defend yet another illegal dam operations plan in court, the Biden administration is setting a new course, following the science and the lead of the Tribes and States, to begin to replace the services of the Lower Snake River dams so that they can be breached.” 

“Thanks to the leadership of Northwest Tribes, we have specific agreed upon actions that move the Northwest region one step closer to saving Columbia River salmon and steelhead runs,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “The National Wildlife Federation is grateful that the Biden Administration has declared that salmon recovery is a government-wide priority and is willing to seize the solutions within our grasp to move us toward a future where abundant salmon populations and wildlife-responsible clean energy can coexist.”

“This salmon recovery blueprint developed by Tribes and the states of Oregon and Washington is what we must follow to prevent further extinctions and if we want our fishing industry to continue,” said Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association Executive Director Liz Hamilton. “The status of the fish now, and the reduced dam spill for fall Chinook, will demand decisive and bold action to prevent further declines. We intend to hold the Biden Administration to these commitments and will continue to fight to ensure this initiative is implemented.” 

“Many billions of dollars and decades have been wasted by past federal administrations trying to undo the near-extinction disaster the four lower Snake River dams have inflicted on this once world-famous fishery,” commented Glen Spain, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), a major fishing industry trade association representing commercial salmon fishing families coastwide. “Ignoring the needs of the salmon has destroyed more than 25,000 fishing jobs supporting families in coastal communities from California to Alaska, with economic losses totaling nearly a billion dollars annually. This plan finally pulls us out of gridlock by focusing on true salmon restoration rather than continuing a blind march toward salmon extinctions.” 

”This commitment sets the stage for replacing the energy services of the lower Snake River dams and puts BPA on notice to collaborate fully and rapidly modernize how the agency provides energy services to help restore Columbia and Snake River fish and meet regional climate goals,” said Nancy Hirsh, executive director of the NW Energy Coalition. “The regional energy need planning process is an exciting leverage of funds already committed by Washington state to develop an action plan for energy services replacement.”  

“The four Lower Snake River dams must be breached, and commitments to Tribes honored,” said Sierra Club Snake/Columbia River Salmon Campaign Director Bill Arthur. “This agreement moves everyone forward together, with federal resources supporting the replacement of the dam’s services. It’s both a necessity and an opportunity for our region. We should seize it and work together to ensure it is effectively implemented. We must move forward with the urgency necessary to meet the needs of the salmon, orca and communities and tribes that depend on them.” 


Today, the Biden Administration announced a 10-year partnership with tribes and states to restore wild salmon, expand clean energy production, increase resilience, and provide energy stability in the Columbia River Basin. Trout Unlimited applauds the decades-long, unfaltering commitment from the four sovereign tribal nations, the states, and other litigants to recover salmon across the Columbia Basin and Snake River Basin. 

Trout Unlimited has long supported a comprehensive solution to recover wild salmon and steelhead. A comprehensive solution which includes breaching the four lower Snake River dams, upholds tribal treaty rights, updates our aging energy infrastructure, restores coldwater habitat, replaces the benefits of the dams, and recovers wild salmon and steelhead. Trout Unlimited staff and volunteers who live and work in these communities are committed to ensuring everyone in the region is made whole.  

“For almost 100 years, the federal energy system has thrived at the expense of the Northwest Tribes whose ancestorial lands were submerged and traditional food source decimated. Further, billions of dollars of failed mitigation costs have been passed onto working- and middle-class ratepayers throughout the region. The federal government cannot continue prioritizing the competitive position of the Bonneville Power Administration at the expense of tribes, ratepayers, and salmon. This agreement is a step towards a brighter future that includes a comprehensive solution to restore the Snake River basin.” – Lindsay Slater, Vice President of Government Affairs at Trout Unlimited

This agreement is a step towards salmon recovery and upholding our commitment to Northwest tribes, but time is running out. We must urgently act instead of standing idly by while our wild salmon slip into extinction. Northwest tribes are leading the way – offering innovative energy solutions that protect wild fish and our regional economy. But Congress must decide to move quickly to create a comprehensive solution that moves the Northwest forward and saves salmon. 

“This is another brick in the road to recovery of snake river salmon and steelhead,” said Chris Wood President and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “The first brick was laid by Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID), who demonstrated that we could meet all the social and economic needs of those who depend on the dams and still recover salmon. The second brick was the Murray-Insley report. The third brick was laid by NOAA fisheries scientists who said that the only way we could ever recover these fish would be through removing the four lower Snake River dams. This all leads to an essential question for the Pacific Northwest: do we want a future with wild salmon and steelhead? We can replace every benefit provided by the dams, but the fish? They need a river.” 


Standing by the leadership of the Nez Perce, Yakama, Warm Springs, and Umatilla Tribes and after three decades of litigation, the National Wildlife Federation joins a coalition of fishing, conservation and energy groups in a significant step forward in the long-standing legal battle to restore and conserve Snake River salmon and steelhead runs. The joint agreement with the Biden administration, the States of Oregon and Washington and Nez Perce, Yakama, Warm Springs, and Umatilla Tribes offers a multi-year pause in Snake River litigation to allow for the implementation of federal commitments that aim to advance the recovery of salmon, steelhead and other native fish populations throughout the broader Columbia River Basin.

“Thanks to the leadership of Northwest Tribes, we have specific agreed upon actions that move the Northwest region one step closer to saving Columbia River salmon and steelhead runs,” saidCollin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “The National Wildlife Federation is grateful that the Biden Administration has declared that salmon recovery is a government-wide priority and is willing to seize the solutions within our grasp to move us toward a future where abundant salmon populations and wildlife-responsible clean energy can coexist.

The Biden administration is supporting a bold new blueprint with considerable federal funding and a Memorandum of Understanding to continue working together on next steps. The federal commitments which were filed with the court today respond to and support the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative, developed by the four Lower Columbia River Treaty Tribes and the states of Oregon and Washington and were unveiled publicly today. Both the federal commitments and the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative were formally filed today. 

“We have spent nearly $26 billion attempting to recover Idaho’s salmon and steelhead — the most expensive species-recovery effort in history — to no avail. Simply put, no recovery efforts have or will prevail while the lower Snake River dams continue to be the largest contributor of  human-caused fish mortality,” said Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation. “That is why it is imperative to begin replacing the remaining  services the  lower Snake River dams provide so we may have a future with fish. Idahoans are deeply grateful to the Biden Administration for their work with Tribes and partners to put the Northwest on the right path.”

The Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative provides a comprehensive roadmap to rebuild imperiled fish populations, honor Tribal treaty rights, and restore healthy ecosystems while supporting a robust Pacific Northwest economy. It explicitly outlines a plan to restore and conserve salmon runs within two fish generations, or approximately eight years and commits the federal government to partnering with the Tribes and States to plan and begin to implement a diverse range of solutions for replacing the energy, transportation, and agricultural services currently provided by the four Lower Snake River dams.

Both the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative and the U.S. government commitments build on the report and recommendations from a  joint federal-state process by Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) as well as funding allocated by the Washington Legislature last year to plan to replace and modernize transportation, irrigation and energy needs.

A timeline of the battle to recover Snake River salmon can be found here