By Lynda V Mapes
Oct. 22, 2021
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Gov. Jay Inslee are setting the wheels in motion to begin a regionwide assessment of dam breaching on the Lower Snake River.
“We approach this question with open minds and without a predetermined decision,” the two said in a joint statement. “Both of us believe that for the region to move forward, the time has come to identify specific details for how the impacts of breach can, or cannot, be mitigated.”
Both said they recognize the urgency of the task as salmon runs continue to decline, and set a deadline for recommendations to be completed by no later than July 2022.
Murray will work to secure in the 2022 Water Resources Development Act an authorization of an analysis of the four Lower Snake River dams that will evaluate the costs and impacts of breaching them alongside other options.
Historically, work on any U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects, including dams, has been preceded by a study. Such an analysis is necessary to pursue an authorization for further action with the dams, potentially including breaching, to be included in a future Water Resources Development Act.
Meanwhile, under a filing in federal court Thursday, dam operations to benefit salmon, including spill of water over the dams, will be in place during the 2022 salmon migration season. The operations are intended to help salmon past the dams by routing water over the spillways rather than through turbines, increasing river flow.
“Today’s filing represents an important opportunity to prioritize the resolution of more than 20 years of litigation and identify creative solutions that improve conditions for salmon for years to come,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement. “While it is important to balance the region’s economy and power generation, it is also time to improve conditions for Tribes that have relied on these important species since time immemorial.”
All parties to a federal lawsuit on dam operations also agreed to pause their litigation while the talks are underway.
The study will include consultation with tribal governments as well as individuals and interest groups with a goal of addressing the needs of the entire region.
Shannon Wheeler, vice chairperson of the Nez Perce Tribe, said the voice of the tribes is being heard. “I’m very excited for the potential of the discussions in the year ahead.”
Kurt Miller, of Northwest River Parters, which represents river users, including power producers, transportation and ports, welcomed the news of the stay of litigation.
The question now, Miller said, is what the longer-term negotiations produce. “All the thorny issues are still there.”
Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee's joint statement can be viewed here.
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter: @LyndaVMapes. Lynda specializes in coverage of the environment, natural history, and Native American tribes.