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Inslee and Murray launch Snake Dam failure study


Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Senator Patty Murray pledged to keep an open mind as they announced a joint federal and state process on Friday to see if there are reasonable ways to replace the benefits of lower dams from the Snake River.

They expect to make recommendations by the end of July at the latest.

The rupture or demolition of the four dams from the Ice Harbor Dam near Tri-Cities to the Lower Granite Dam near Lewiston, Idaho, has been proposed as a way to help endangered salmon.

Inslee foreshadowed the announcement at an event hosted by conservation voters in Washington earlier this month, saying he and Murray would launch a rigorous, robust and rapid assessment of what would be needed to replace the benefits of the four dams.

“We both believe that, for the region to move forward, now is the time to identify specific details on how the impacts of the breach may or may not be mitigated,” Inslee and Murray said in an announcement. joint Friday.

They said neither had decided whether there were reasonable ways to replace the benefits of the dams to support their demolition as part of the Snake River salmon recovery strategy.

Over the next few months, they will be speaking to a wide range of individuals and groups across the Pacific Northwest with different opinions on the dam breaking, they said.

“This will include close consultation and guidance by treaty-protected tribes whose a unique perspective and sovereignty that each of us deeply appreciates, ”they said.

Conservation and fishing groups have called for the removal of the dams to help replenish the salmon populations that must pass through eight hydroelectric dams between the Idaho-Washington border and the Pacific Ocean.

“Saving our salmon is absolutely essential to the economy and cultural heritage of Washington State. This is an urgent business to which we are fully committed, ”said Inslee and Murray.

Lack of concentration called into question

But Northwest RiverPartners said he was concerned about Murray and Inslee apparent concentration on the lower dams of the Snake River, defining the question as if their services can be replaced rather than if they need to be replaced.

“With massive declines in top-to-bottom chinook salmon survival on the Pacific coast over the past 50 years linked to climate change and ocean warming, the idea of ​​violating key carbon-free production infrastructure just doesn’t make sense, ”said Kurt Miller, executive director of the nonprofit representing the public services and agricultural and marine interests that depend on the Snake River dams.

Calls to break dams for salmon recovery lack the scientific rigor needed for such a drastic decision, he said.

“There is still so much we don’t know about salmon and we risk doing more harm than good in the long term by breaking dams, given the context of climate change,” Miller said.

Pacific Northwest Waterways Association pointed out that a $ 40 million environmental study completed last year concluded that breaking dams was not in the best interests of society from a climate, cost and societal benefit perspective, especially given the uncertainty of the benefits to salmon.

The association said shifting navigation from barges on the lower Snake River to trucks and rail would increase carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions every year, equivalent to a coal-fired power plant. running for five or six years.

But a coalition of a dozen specialists in conservation, fisheries and others groups with similar views on dam failure praised Inslee and Murray’s plan.

They said the science on preventing extinction is clear.

Support for dam failure

“Salmon and rainbow trout require cold, flowing water, which requires the removal of the four lower dams on the Snake River,” they said in a statement.

Nancy Hirsh, executive director of Northwest Energy Coalition, said she believes the energy services provided by the four Snake River hydroelectric dams can be reliably and affordably replaced through effective planning.

“The pressure on the Snake River dams has just reached an all time high” with Inslee and Murray joining together to consider replacing their services, said Guilia Good Stefani, senior counsel for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a non-profit organization. lucrative environmental protection.

“This is a giant leap for the tribes who have kept the fish alive for all these years and for all of us who care deeply about justice and live in a rich and climate resilient northwest,” he said. she declared.

The planned expeditious completion of the assessment recognizes the urgency of the need to save the salmonsaid Justin Hayes, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League.

“Preserving a place in the Water Resources Development Act to withdraw authorization for dams makes sense. Endless studies don’t do it, ”he said.

Murray said she would ensure that key elements of a salmon recovery strategy that stems from cooperation between state and federal governments are included as part of any Army Corps of Engineers strategy in the 2022 tax law on the development of water resources.

This could include a possible analysis by federal agencies of the failure of the four lower Snake River dams as part of a solution, she and Inslee said.

Federal analysis would be needed to pursue further measures with dams, potentially including ruptures, to be included in a future water resources development law.

“Without this critical step, options that could be critical to salmon restoration could be left out of the most appropriate and viable federal legislative vehicle,” they said.

Inslee and Murray said they would work with Democrats and Republicans to assess how the benefits of the dams could be replaced.

“Something fishy”

However, U.S. Republican officials in Washington state – Dan Newhouse, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and Jamie Herrera Beutler – were skeptical.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the public and stakeholders who depend on the Columbia Snake River system have been excluded from conversations between the Biden administration, federal agencies and groups whose sole mission is to break through dams. of the Lower Snake River, ”they said. said Friday in a joint statement.

It seems “at best suspect” that a settlement announced Thursday would end disputes over the operation of eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers until July, just as the review of the dam’s benefits by the ‘State and federal government must be completed, they said.

“It appears to be nothing more than a predetermined backdoor deal in the works…” they said. “Something fishy is going on, and it’s not just the promising salmon returns we’re seeing in the lower Snake River.”

A process for submitting written comments for the joint federal-state process has yet to be announced.

This story was originally published 22 October 2021 3:17 p.m.

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Senior Editor Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for over 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.