Snake River dams may need to be removed to help salmon

It is possible to replace the energy generated by the dams, but it will cost between $11 billion and $19 billion.

WASHINGTON — Editor’s Note: The video above originally aired August 7, 2021.

The Biden administration released two reports Tuesday arguing that dismantling dams on the lower Snake River may be required to bring salmon runs back to historic levels.

It is possible to replace the energy generated by the dams, but it will cost between $11 billion and $19 billion.

The reports were published by the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

“Business as usual will not restore the salmon,” said Brenda Mallory, chair of the council. “The Columbia River system is the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest.”

Many salmon runs continue to decline, something environmentalists blame the dams for, Mallory said, and her office is leading efforts by several agencies to restore “rich salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin.”

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Mallory warned that the Biden administration does not endorse any long-term solution, including breaching the levees.

On Tuesday, a draft report by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found changes needed to restore salmon ranging from the removal of one to four dams on the lower Snake River to reintroducing salmon into areas completely dam-ridden are blocked. A second report looked at how power supplies could be replaced when dams break.

“These two reports complete the picture – which we are working to develop with regional leaders – of what it will take in the decades to come to restore salmon populations, meet our commitments to tribal nations, deliver clean electricity and meet the many needs of stakeholders meet across the region,” Mallory said.

More than a dozen runs of salmon and steelhead are endangered in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Billions of dollars have been spent restoring salmon and steelhead, but the fish continue to decline, spokesmen said, and it’s time to try a different approach. Dam breaches are opposed by grain trucks, irrigation companies, power producers and other river users. Dam advocates blame other factors for the declining salmon migrations, such as B. changing sea conditions.

“We need to move to greater action,” NOAA scientist Chris Jordan said Monday in a briefing on the report.

“We are at a pivotal moment for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin as we see the impact of climate change on top of other stressors,” said Janet Coit, Administrator for NOAA Fisheries.

The problem has raged across the Northwest for three decades, sparking court battles and political debates over the future of the four Snake River dams that environmentalists blame for the decline in salmon and steelhead.

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, kicked off the final round of debate in 2021 when he released a plan saying it would cost $34 billion to remove and replace the dams’ services to to save salmon. US Senator Patty Murray and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, both Democrats, are also preparing a report whose recommendations are expected later this summer.

Last month, Murray and Inslee announced it would cost $10.3 billion to $27.2 billion to replace the benefits of four giant hydroelectric power plants on Washington state’s lower Snake River.

RELATED: Inslee, Murray, Cantwell oppose plan to remove Snake River dams

Breaking the levees would greatly improve the ability of salmon and steelheads to swim from their inland spawning grounds to the Pacific Ocean, where they spend most of their lives, and then back to their original spawning grounds to breed and die, they said Murray and Inslee.

One of the major benefits of the dams is making the Snake River navigable as far north as Lewiston, Idaho, allowing barges to transport wheat and other crops to seaports. Eliminating the dams would require improvements in trucking and rail transportation to move the crop.

The dams also generate electricity, provide irrigation water for farmers and provide recreational opportunities for people.

The dams have many supporters, including two GOP congressmen representing eastern Washington state. The dams are also supported by shipping companies, farmers and other business interests. Breaking it would require an act of Congress.

US Republican Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of eastern Washington have introduced legislation to protect levees located in their districts.

By the late 1800s, up to 16 million salmon and steelheads were returning to the Columbia River Basin to spawn each year. Over the next century and a half, overfishing reduced this number. In the early 1950s, nearly 130,000 Chinook returned to the Snake River.

RELATED: Critics vow to continue efforts to remove Washington’s Snake River dams

Construction of the first dam on the lower river, Ice Harbor, began in 1955. Lower Monumental followed in 1969, Little Goose in 1970, and Lower Granite in 1975. The dams stretch from Pasco, Washington to near Pullman, Washington, and stand between migratory ones Salmon and 5,500 miles (8,850 kilometers) of spawning habitat in central Idaho.

The dams have fish ladders, but too many salmon die migrating through the dams and over still water reservoirs.

In 1991, Snake River salmon and steelhead were listed as endangered species, necessitating the creation of a federal recovery plan. Over the next three decades, environmental organizations sued the federal government six times, arguing that the remediation plan was inadequate.

The US government has spent more than $17 billion trying to recover Snake River salmon through fish ladder improvements and other measures, and has little to show for it. Snake River dams may need to be removed to help salmon

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