Last month, two new cracks spread across the face of the political dam that has for decades blocked progress on restoring abundant populations of wild salmon and steelhead to the Inland Northwest.
First, a coalition of fishing and conservation groups including American Rivers joined with the Biden administration, the State of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe to ask a federal judge to pause until next summer litigation challenging the latest federal plan for hydropower operations on the lower Snake and lower Columbia rivers. We have committed to work together to develop and implement a comprehensive, long-term solution to benefit endangered salmon and steelhead and that could resolve the long-running litigation over Columbia and Snake River dam operations. The stay, which the judge has granted, will last until July 31, 2022.
Second, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) announced a “federal-state process on salmon recovery in the Columbia River Basin and the Pacific Northwest” with Washington Governor Jay Inslee to explore how the hydropower, transportation and irrigation benefits of the four lower Snake River dams in eastern Washington can be replaced if they are breached. They committed to deliver their plan by July.
This builds on the momentum that was created last February when Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID) unveiled a $33.5 billion framework for removing the lower Snake River dams and making investments in clean energy and transportation and irrigation infrastructure to make up for their lost services. Congressman Simpson’s “Columbia Basin Initiative” drew support from Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Oregon Governor Kate Brown.
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The announcement by Senator Murray and Governor Inslee drew praise from Samuel Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee. “The Columbia Power System was literally constructed out of the rivers and reservations and homelands of 19 Columbia Basin tribes,” Penney said. “When that destructive history is truly understood, the modesty of the present request is plain, and the science supporting it is clear: salmon need a free-flowing, climate-resilient Lower Snake River, not a series of slow, easily-warmed reservoirs. The Nez Perce Tribe and its people intend to ensure that salmon do not go extinct on our watch.”
The four lower Snake River dams – Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor — are driving wild salmon to extinction and harming Native American tribes across the Pacific Northwest. Salmon are the backbone of our region. Without them, our ecosystems and local economies unravel. For tribes, the loss of salmon is an existential crisis, threatening their identity, culture and survival.
The science is clear: removing the four lower Snake dams and restoring a free-flowing lower Snake River must be part of any credible salmon recovery effort. But this is about more than science: it’s about addressing longstanding injustice and healing a river that is a lifeline for tribes and communities across the region.
Time is of the essence. We have eight months to show Northwest leaders and the Biden administration that the restoration of a free-flowing lower Snake River is vital to preventing extinction of salmon runs and to honoring treaties and commitments with tribes.
As Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said, “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.”
We want a healthy river, abundant salmon runs, justice for tribes and a climate-resilient future. It’s time for these dams to come down.
To learn more about the lower Snake River dams, we invite you to reach our Snake River Vision blog series: Climate Resilience, Energy Replacement, Job Security, Tribal Rights, and Vibrant Agriculture.