PNWA reacts to Inslee, Murray proposal to study Lower Snake River dam breaching

Snake River

The Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA) said a recent joint statement by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray raises concern “that their narrow focus on four federal dams with outstanding fish passage and benefits to the entire region and nation fails to place the salmon recovery discussion into proper context.”

The legislators announced a plan to create a new process to determine whether there are reasonable means for replacing the benefits provided by the four dams on the Lower Snake River. These four dams are federal projects that are part of a larger hydropower, irrigation and transportation system that provides direct benefits to Montana, Idaho, Oregon and beyond; direct and indirect benefits across the Midwest, Pacific Coast and Southwest regions; and worldwide benefits to the U.S. and its trading partners in Asia and elsewhere.

PNWA said it completely agrees that salmon are essential to Washington state’s economy and cultural heritage.

In 2020, federal government experts completed a $40 million, multi-year analysis of this system, with consultations by federal natural resource agencies, states and Tribal entities, and input from the public. The conclusion was that breaching the dams is not in the best interest of society from climate, cost and societal benefits perspectives, especially given the highly uncertain benefits for salmon.

PNWA said barging on the Columbia Snake River System is a critical part of efforts to fight climate change through decarbonization. From a transportation perspective, moving commodity flows from barge to truck and rail will result in increases in CO2 and other harmful emissions by over 1.25 million tons per year.

Recent news from Alaska, Canada and the Washington coast and river systems shows that salmon populations throughout the region – including on undammed rivers with pristine habitat – are plummeting. Meanwhile the lower Snake River dams are run of river, do not block fish, and have “outstanding” fish passage rates (95% or better for juvenile fish). Some lower Snake River salmon populations are expanding to the point where states are opening fishing seasons for the first time in 100 years.

Multiple groups and studies convened by federal and state elected officials and agencies – including several led by the Washington State governor’s office – have concluded that the certain costs of breaching the Lower Snake River dams significantly outweigh the highly speculative benefits to salmon and orca. Meanwhile, continued study and implementation of habitat restoration, pollution and predator management, and advanced fish passage solutions have shown real gains, PNWA said.

NOAA Fisheries started a conversation with its Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force to evaluate all Northwest runs, set goals for recovery, and highlight the multitude of actions it will take to help fish. Discussions are happening about the best way to continue that work, including other regional collaborative efforts proposed by Gov. Inslee and his three fellow Pacific Northwest governors.

PNWA said it “encourages Gov. Inslee, Sen. Murray and other parties in the Northwest to reject extreme and narrow approaches like Snake River dam breaching, and collaborate to help our region’s salmon in every part of their life cycle.”

PNWA is a non-profit, non-partisan trade association of ports, businesses, public agencies and individuals who support navigation, energy, trade and economic development throughout the region.

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Elizabeth Ingram is content director for the Hydro Review website and HYDROVISION International. She has more than 17 years of experience with the hydroelectric power industry. Follow her on Twitter @ElizabethIngra4 .

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