White House: Dams may need to be removed to help salmon

SPOKANE, Wash.– The Biden administration released two reports Tuesday arguing that dismantling dams on the lower Snake River may be required to bring salmon migrations in the Pacific Northwest back to sustainable levels, and that replacing those with the Dams generated energy is possible, but will cost 11 billion to 19 billion dollars.

The reports were published by the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

“Business as usual will not restore the salmon,” said Brenda Mallory, chair of the council. “The Columbia River system is the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest.”

If the four Snake River dams were permanently removed, it would be the largest such project in US history. In 2012, the Elwha Dam on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula was removed to restore habitat. At the time, the National Park Service said the removal of the Elwha Dam was the largest such project in US history.

Many salmon runs continue to decline, something environmentalists blame the dams for, Mallory said, and her office is leading efforts by several agencies to restore “rich salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin.”

Mallory warned that the Biden administration does not endorse any long-term solution, including breaching the levees.

A draft report by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found changes needed to restore salmon, from removing one to four dams on the lower Snake River to reintroducing salmon into areas completely blocked by dams. A second report looked at how power supplies could be replaced when dams break.

“These two reports complete the picture – which we are working to develop with regional leaders – of what will be required over the coming decades to restore salmon populations, meet our commitments to tribal nations, deliver clean electricity and meet the many needs of stakeholders meet across the region,” Mallory said.

More than a dozen runs of salmon and steelhead are endangered in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Billions of dollars have been spent restoring salmon and steelhead, but the fish continue to decline, spokesmen said, and it’s time to try a different approach. Dam breaches are opposed by grain trucks, irrigation companies, power producers and other river users. Dam advocates blame other factors for the declining salmon migrations, such as B. changing sea conditions.

“We need to take bigger action,” NOAA scientist Chris Jordan said Monday in a briefing on the report.

“We are at a pivotal moment for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin as we see the effects of climate change on top of other stressors,” said Janet Coit, an administrator for NOAA Fisheries.

Six Republican congressmen from the Northwest have criticized the reports as biased.

“They are cherry picking points to justify breaching the Lower Snake River Dams, which will permanently and negatively affect the way we live in the Pacific Northwest,” said U.S. Reps. Dan Newhouse, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jaime Herrera Beutler in a statement. all from Washington, Cliff Bentz from Oregon, Russ Fulcher from Idaho and Matt Rosendale from Montana.

Kurt Miller, chief executive of Northwest RiverPartners, which is made up of river users, said electricity tariff payers would see higher bills if the levees were breached. Rate increases could reach 65%, Miller said.

“The study validates the fact that these dams are essential to the region if we are to meet our emissions reduction goals and maintain a reliable grid at an affordable cost,” Miller said.

The problem has raged across the Northwest for three decades, sparking court battles and political debates over the future of the four Snake River dams that environmentalists blame for the decline in salmon and steelhead.

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, kicked off the final round of debate in 2021 when he released a plan saying it would cost $34 billion to remove and replace the dams’ services to to save salmon. US Senator Patty Murray and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, both Democrats, are also preparing a report whose recommendations are expected later this summer.

Last month, Murray and Inslee announced it would cost $10.3 billion to $27.2 billion to replace the benefits of four giant hydroelectric power plants on Washington state’s lower Snake River.

Breaking the levees would greatly improve the ability of salmon and steelheads to swim from their inland spawning grounds to the Pacific Ocean, where they spend most of their lives, and then back to their original spawning grounds to breed and die. said Murray and Inslee.

One of the major benefits of the dams is making the Snake River navigable as far north as Lewiston, Idaho, allowing barges to transport wheat and other crops to seaports. Eliminating the dams would require improvements in trucking and rail transportation to move the crop.

The dams also generate electricity, provide irrigation water for farmers and provide recreational opportunities for people. Breaching the levees would require an act of Congress. Newhouse and McMorris Rodgers have introduced legislation to protect the levees located in their districts.

By the late 1800s, up to 16 million salmon and steelheads were returning to the Columbia River Basin to spawn each year. Over the next century and a half, overfishing reduced this number. In the early 1950s, nearly 130,000 Chinook returned to the Snake River.

Construction of the first dam on the lower river, Ice Harbor, began in 1955. Lower Monumental followed in 1969, Little Goose in 1970, and Lower Granite in 1975. The dams stretch from Pasco, Washington to near Pullman, Washington, and stand between migratory ones Salmon and 5,500 miles (8,850 kilometers) of spawning habitat in central Idaho.

The dams have fish ladders, but too many salmon die migrating through the dams and over still water reservoirs.

In 1991, Snake River salmon and steelhead were listed as endangered species, necessitating the creation of a federal recovery plan.

The US government has spent more than $17 billion trying to recover Snake River salmon through fish ladder improvements and other measures, and has little to show for it.

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This story has been updated to correct that the goal of the dam removal is to restore salmon runs to sustainable levels, not historical levels.

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