Lower Snake River, ID, OR and WA

The salmon and steelhead of the Snake River are magnificent creatures, traveling over 900 miles from the sea to spawn in Idaho’s high mountain streams.

These fish are central to the lives of many Pacific Northwesterners and to the health of the region’s environment and economy.

Unfortunately, this icon of the region is threatened with extinction, due in large part to the effects of the four lower Snake River dams.

The best available science concludes that removing these outdated dams and restoring a free-flowing lower Snake River would allow for the restoration of healthy, fishable salmon and steelhead runs to the largest potential block of healthy salmon habitat remaining in the lower 48 states.

Before removing the four lower Snake River dams, the services they provide must be replaced with cost effective alternatives.  Power from the dams can be replaced through a combination of energy efficiency, new renewables like wind, and perhaps changes in the operation of the region’s other dams.  Grain currently transported on lower Snake River barges can be moved on upgraded railroads, highways, and Columbia River barges.  Irrigation is only provided from the lowermost of four lower Snake River reservoirs, and that water could also be pumped from a free-flowing river. 

In addition, dam removal would bring with it substantial recreational benefits, reduce the risk of flooding in Lewiston, Idaho, and reduce or even eliminate pressure on Idaho farmers to forgo irrigation for the benefit of downstream salmon.  Dam removal would also likely be cheaper in the long run for taxpayers and electricity ratepayers, as it would reduce mitigation costs for the rest of the Columbia River dams.   

If someone can put forward a credible alternative plan for achieving recovery of harvestable salmon and steelhead runs that protects these other values, we are ready to evaluate and even embrace it.  None has come to light so far, which is why we have found ourselves engaged in long running litigation. As other river and water management settlements around the West have demonstrated, it takes hard work to chart out a win-win solution, but such outcomes can be and have been achieved.

In the Columbia-Snake basin, a win-win solution will be one that restores abundant, harvestable wild salmon, fosters investment in new renewable energy, ensures sufficient water supplies and transportation infrastructure for farms and communities, and reduces risk of flood damage.  Reaching this outcome will require strong leadership from the White House, Northwest governors, and the Northwest congressional delegation.  These leaders should encourage and even demand that Columbia Basin stakeholders get together to forge a comprehensive plan to restore imperiled salmon and protect and enhance region’s economy and quality of life.

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