Advocates anxious ahead of lower Snake River dam report

Prior to the release of a report analyzing potential lower Snake River dam breaches, regional conservation groups urged lawmakers Wednesday to consider what is at stake.

Roughly 60 non-governmental organizations rallied to deliver a message requesting urgency and meaningful action from Gov. Jay Inlsee and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., before the release of the final lower Snake River Dams Benefits Replacement Report.

“There has never been a better opportunity to correct mistakes of the past and create a future that includes abundant salmon, healthy orca populations, and a better and stronger Northwest moving forward,” they wrote in a letter to Inslee and Murray. “We urge you to recognize in your action plan that restoring a resilient, free flowing lower Snake River through dam removal is an essential part of creating a comprehensive regional solution and approach.”

The findings, which are anticipated next week, may push the leaders to support the removal of four hydroelectric dams along the canal, as they are slated to outline the viability of such actions. The structures — located in Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite — connect millions of people in the Pacific Northwest to energy but disproportionately affect fish migration, according to the report.

Inslee and Murray commissioned the Benefit Replacement Report last year to determine whether the dam removals would be necessary for salmon recovery and river restoration. A draft of the report released in June stated that the effort could cost between $10.3 billion and $27.2 billion and would require modifying shipping routes, as well as irrigation water supply plans.

Essentially, the report concluded that removing the dams are possible but at a substantial cost. But big moves, regardless of a hefty price tag, are needed to restore salmon populations to sustainable levels.

A separate report conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last month found that removing at least one dam on the lower Snake River is required for significant change, as previously reported by the New York Times.

Removing the massive dams would require approval from Congress and a comprehensive plan, including a funding proposal and timeline. Neither Inslee nor Murray have voiced their position on the dam removals other than stating their general support of advancing salmon recovery.

The environmental troop, consisting of organizations throughout the Pacific Northwest, reiterated their message in a letter to U.S. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. They emphatically asked the senator to advocate for any prospective legislation that would support the dam removals.

“Clearly, we cannot continue the status quo of spending billions of dollars on failed recovery and mitigation efforts, expensive litigation, and outdated infrastructure,” they wrote to Cantwell. “We urgently need a new approach that is legally valid, scientifically credible and fiscally responsible.”

For more information on the lower Snake River dams report, visit

Lauren Ellenbecker

Lauren Ellenbecker

Lauren Ellenbecker is a politics reporter for The Columbian.

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