TRI-CITIES – The Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday released a plan outlining the steps to evaluate the potential breaching of one or more dams on the Lower Snake River if necessary to ensure survival of endangered salmon and steelhead.
A study – which would include a technical phase and public policy phase and possibly the development of an environmental impact statement – is not imminent.
A dramatic decline in the four-year average of wild salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act or a natural catastrophe are among the “trigger” events that would have to happen to launch the study – which would take several years to complete, Corps officials said.
“There’s a lot of things that would have to fall into place before we could ever get to this step,” said Greg Graham, chief of planning for the Corps’ Walla Walla District.
Even if a study – which would incorporate information gathered for a 2002 study of breaching the four Snake River dams – were initiated and dam removal recommended, the final decision would be up to Congress, the Corps said.
The Corps estimates that such a feasibility study of breaching the Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams could cost up to $19.8 million, based on 2010 prices.
The dam study contingency is included in a 2009 Adaptive Management Implementation Plan submitted to U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland in support of the 2008-2018 Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion.
Dam removal is a “contingency of last resort and would be recommended to Congress only when the best scientific information available indicates dam breaching would be effective and is necessary to avoid jeopardizing the continued existence of the affected Snake River species,” said the Adaptive Management Plan.
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said the possibility of dam removal never should have been included in the plan.
“The Obama Administration’s amendment to the BiOp states that the dam removal study work outlined in the Corps plan won’t begin until a far off, future trigger occurs – and the administration must defend this plan and fight efforts by any who wish to fast-forward dam removal activities today, whether they be dam removal extremists or a federal judge,” Hastings said in a statement.
Wild spring, summer and fall chinook and steelhead are the listed species in the Snake River system. Runs of adult fish, hatchery and wild, were strong last year, and biologists have predicted another big run this year in the Columbia River system.