From the desk of Joseph Bogaard, executive director, Save Our wild Salmon Coalition
September 1, 2022
(Note: this is the first in a series of posts on this recent decision and announcement from Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee)
Late last week, U.S. Senator Patty Murray and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee took an historic step when they released their final Lower Snake River Dam Benefits Replacement Report, recommendations, and public statements outlining a way forward to protect and recover endangered Snake River salmon and steelhead populations and aid endangered, salmon-dependent Southern Resident orcas.
Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee announced key action items for the Snake River as one part of a larger set of important priorities and next steps designed to protect and restore abundant populations of salmon and steelhead across the Columbia Basin and Pacific Northwest. Save Our wild Salmon welcomes and appreciates this very significant package and proposal from the governor and senator and we look forward to working with them and others in the region and in D.C. to advance them - and with the great urgency that circumstances demand.
Their long-anticipated recommendations include this essential conclusion: “The science is clear that – specific to the Lower Snake River – breach of the dams would provide the greatest benefit to the salmon. Salmon runs in the Lower Snake River are uniquely impacted by the dam structures relative other watersheds, and the waters of the lower Snake River have unique potential for robust aquatic ecosystem and species recovery.”
While the senator and governor’s communications last week about breaching the dams were not as direct and detailed as we had hoped, we are now nevertheless on a clear path to replace the services of the dams and breach them to restore salmon. Murray and Inslee’s overall package includes essential commitments and next steps for state and federal governments working with Tribes and stakeholders to develop and implement a comprehensive regional solution to restore this historic river, protect and rebuild abundant salmon populations, uphold our nation’s promises to Tribes - and meet the needs of communities.
Our way forward – to plan and implement (i) the replacement of services and (ii) removal of the lower Snake River dams – will require significant collaborative planning, policy, advocacy, and state and federal investments. With salmon and steelhead populations and the Southern Resident orcas struggling for survival today, immediate and sustained action is essential. The crucial role of advocates remains to:
- Continue to build momentum and public demand for urgent action
- Deepen and expand political leadership – and
- Hold our elected officials - regionally and nationally - accountable to their commitments to protect salmon and orca from extinction and restore abundance.
We're entering a critical new phase of work. The report, statements and recommendations by Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee, along with the recent commitments by the Biden Administration as part of the continued litigation stay, have put the Northwest on a presumptive path to breaching the four lower Snake River Dams. After years of pushing to protect and restore the Snake River and its fish, there is now a way forward that we must push on - urgently, strategically and effectively. Importantly, this announcement also solidifies Washington State's leadership role moving forward, including the opportunity to strengthen its partnership with Gov. Kate Brown and the State of Oregon.
We would not be here today without your passionate and sustained support, advocacy, agitation and collaboration – supporting the visionary leadership of the tribes, engaging diverse communities and constituencies, reshaping the politics and demanding leadership and real and lasting solutions from our elected officials.
The past few days – following this announcement – have been fast and furious - and they come on top of the Biden Administration’s recent commitment to restore salmon in the Snake and Columbia Rivers. With the Final Report, recommendations, various press statements and wide-ranging media coverage (stories have run in 250+ different news outlets!), there’s a lot of information to review and digest.
So we’ve compiled some information: key conclusions, excerpts and links about what happened, what it means and where we go from here. We’ll follow up soon with additional updates and developments – and, of course, ways that you can help.
I. Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee’s key themes and conclusions:
- The status quo is not working and must change. Changing economic, energy and climate conditions require leaders to plan for changing circumstances in the Columbia Basin region in the coming decades.
- Extinction is unacceptable. Saving salmon and other iconic species in the Columbia Basin is imperative. “Extinction of salmon, orca and other iconic species in the Pacific Northwest is categorically unacceptable…we will not permit Washington state to lose its salmon."
- Saving salmon requires a restored river. The federal government's recent scientific review affirms that breaching the LSR dams offers the greatest benefit to the salmon. “We must recognize that breaching the dams does in fact offer us the best chance at protecting endangered salmon and other iconic species that run through these waters."
The Northwest and nation are now on a path to replace benefits and breach the four lower Snake River dams as part of a comprehensive plan to restore salmon in the Columbia Basin. This requires building new energy, transportation and irrigation infrastructure. “We can do so in a manner that is responsible and environmentally safe, that addresses the concerns of communities, and that respects the Treaty rights and cultural imperatives of Tribal sovereigns. But we must do this work.”
II. Murray/Inslee recommendations - some excerpts:
- While we have heard disagreement and intensity of feeling, we have also seen clear areas of common agreement. People of every perspective share a desire to see progress on the underlying issues and relief from the uncertainty created by litigation for communities. (p.1)
- The present moment affords us a vital opportunity to build on these areas of agreement, and we firmly believe that the region cannot afford another fifty years of confrontation, litigation, and acrimony over the Lower Snake River Dams. (p.1)
- The Joint Federal-State Process makes clear that - with adequate investment and coordination - it is possible to replace most of the services and benefits provided by the Dams in the event of breach and to mitigate the loss of others. (p.2)
- [W]e are adamant that in any circumstance where the Lower Snake River River Dams would be breached, the replacement and mitigation of their benefits must be pursued before decommissioning and breaching. This is especially true in ensuring that reliable, dispatchable, and carbon-free energy is available and operating…
- Some assert that energy scarcity and environmental calamity are inevitable results of changing our approach to hydropower on the Lower Snake River Dams, and that doing so will derail the Pacific Northwest’s decarbonization goals as we confront the climate crisis. We believe that is an oversimplified binary choice, and it is one that we do not accept... (p.2)
- [T]he federal and state governments should move forward with a program to replace the benefits provided by the Lower Snake River Dams... (p.2)
- To establish breach of the Lower Snake River Dams as a realistic and actionable option, we must focus on short-and medium-term actions to invest in the region's transportation network and electrical grid...Important, we must also aggressively pursue projects and initiatives to restore habitat and support salmon recovery throughout the Columbia River Basin and the Puget Sound. (p.3)
- [B]reaching of the Lower Snake River Dams should be an option....at the conclusion of this Process, that it must be an option we strive to make viable. (p.4)
- A great deal of work remains to resolve the technical and financial questions that remain, and it is time to transition from endless debate and litigation to taking concrete steps now that ensure every option is available to policymakers. (p.5)
- As this Joint Federal-State Process was underway, new developments are providing an unprecedented opportunity to reach solutions that serve everyone that relies on the dams, the river, and the salmon: the year-long stay agreed to on August 4th by litigants in NWF et. v. NMFS et. al; the commitment by the Biden administration to negotiate toward a regionwide solution to salmon, and the passage of landmark federal investments in clean energy, climate and infrastructure. (p.5)
Salmon, orca, clean energy and fishing advocates have hard work ahead in order to realize this opportunity: to support the Tribes and work with Northwest states, members of Congress and the Biden Administration to secure the necessary funding and replace the dams' services as quickly as possible. Plenty of interests will throw up roadblocks if they can. Meanwhile, important work by the Nez Perce Tribe, State of Oregon and conservation/fishing plaintiffs continues - to reach a settlement with the Biden Administration over the next twelve months that will restore the river and salmon and meet other regional needs. While we will need direct congressional authorization and funding, our work and way forward is clear – and with your continued partnership, we will begin to check items off the list. Salmon and orca - and our nation’s responsibility to uphold its promises with Tribes - demand it.
III. Selected press coverage:
NY Times: Breaching Dams ‘Must Be an Option’ to Save Salmon, Washington Democrats Say
Associated Press: Report: Benefits of dams must be replaced before breaching.
IV. Additional resources:
- Final Lower Snake River Dam Benefits Replacement Report
- Senator Murray / Governor Inslee recommendations
- Gov. Jay Inslee press release
- Sen. Patty Murray press release
- Gov. Kate Brown (OR) statement
- Yakama Nation press release
- Conservation and fishing advocates press release
Thank you, as ever, for your support and advocacy.