Two senior Washington Democrats have issued a draft report on the costs and benefits of removing four dams on the Lower Snake to benefit imperiled salmon, steelhead and fisheries, a conversation publicly begun over a year ago by an Idaho Republican.
Senator Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee say replacing the services provided by Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite “is possible” and would cost $10.3 billion to $27.2 billion, though the figures don’t reflect how much “several necessary actions” would cost.
They say breaching the quartet would “significantly improve passage for salmon, steelhead, and lamprey,” has “the highest likelihood of removing salmon from ESA listing” and would increase harvest by nearly 30 percent for tribal fishermen, while fully restored salmon fisheries in the Columbia Basin would generate $1 billion in additional economic activity for the recreational industry.
“Although this draft report describes a potential path forward to successfully replace, or even improve upon services currently provided by the LSRD, significant work would be needed to bring this outcome about,” their report states. “Congressional authorization would be needed for the Army Corps to pursue breaching the dams. In addition to congressional action, moving forward with dam breaching also would require establishing timelines and milestones for results, agreement on a comprehensive funding strategy, additional analyses to maximize benefits at all stages of the process, continued technological advancements and implementation of a significant infrastructure program.”
Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson’s plan, released in February 2021, had a price tag of $33 billion to breach the dam and replace the transportation and energy infrastructure.
The Murray-Inslee report foresees extensive stakeholder engagement, collaboration across governmental bodies, and secure funding, and it will be open for public comment through July 11.
It had sportfishing interests talking immediately.
“After spending $19 billion giving Columbia Basin salmon everything but what they need – more free-flowing river miles – political leaders, like Washington Senator Patty Murray and Governor Jay Inslee, are exploring how we can restore salmon by giving them what they truly need,” said Buzz Ramsey, an influential member of the Northwest salmon and steelhead fishing scene and Northwest Sportsman writer. “Those of us in the sport fishing industry have suffered harm due to decades of fishing restrictions and closed seasons. Recovering salmon to harvestable abundance would revitalize our industry and the many rural jobs related to the Northwest’s signature fish.”
“Calling for the removal of the four Lower Snake River dams after three straight years of improved salmon returns is misguided. What’s alarming is trying to breach them at a time when families in Eastern Washington are paying record-high energy costs just to keep the lights on this summer,” said Rodgers in a press release.
Salmon returns spike and ebb and while this year is seeing a relatively good run of Inland Northwest-bound spring Chinook, the stock’s numbers are still nowhere close to the glory years of the early 2000s or even 2015, and another very poor return of Snake steelhead is expected and will see restrictive fishing regs up and down the river to ensure as many get back as possible.
“Tribal, sport, and commercial fishers, orca, and others who depend on these fish, need urgent and bold action to restore salmon to abundance,” stated Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “The ‘why’ of the Murray Inslee report is painfully obvious to us. Now, we have leadership willing to ask the questions of how and when. How do we restore salmon and steelhead to an abundance that sustains fishing communities and orca, and how do we modernize the transportation, energy and irrigation systems in the basin to meet our future needs. We are grateful to Senator Murray and Governor Inslee’s work to produce this important information at a critical time for salmon and steelhead.”
The tribes had a lot to say in the matter.
“Honor the treaties. Protect our salmon. Breach the dams,” read the subhead of a press release issued by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
“Salmon in the Snake River and Columbia River Basin are at a crisis point,” stated Yakama Tribal Council Chairman Delano Saluskin in another press release. “Our people are salmon people. When the salmon thrive, we thrive; but when they suffer, our people suffer too. We have elders who were alive when 16 million salmon returned to this basin every year. Now the numbers are a small fraction of that. Successful salmon recovery is possible and will benefit millions of people and thousands of businesses throughout the region.”
And while noting they support Rep. Simpson’s plan, Shannon F. Wheeler, vice chair of the Nez Perce Tribe, pointed out “The Murray-Inslee Report will provide even more support for taking action now to restore the lower Snake River and invest in the Northwest in a way that will ensure that this region leads the Nation and the world. Now is the time for National leadership and action from the Administration and Congress to work on solutions to address a status quo that is antiquated and only works for a select few to provide a future that would work for everyone.”