Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in Congress aimed at saving the Snake River dams in Washington state.
The bill – introduced by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers with Rep. Dan Newhouse, both R-Wash., and others – would keep in place the Federal Columbia River Biological Opinion, or BiOp, until 2022. It’s a plan created by a collaboration of federal agencies, states and tribes to protect salmon while operating dams.
But a federal court judge has ruled that the BiOp doesn’t do enough to rebuild endangered salmon and steelhead populations.
Judge Michael Simon has ordered a new environmental review, which is required to include a look at breaching the four Snake River dams. A 2018 deadline is set for an immediate plan for operating the dams, and in 2021 a new BiOp must be completed.
“Removing the Snake River dams would be harmful to our communities, the environment and our economy,” Newhouse said. “This legislation is needed to support the critical role that Snake River dams play by providing Washington communities with clean, renewable hydropower.”
He called the bill “common sense.”
The bill also would effectively overturn an April decision by Simon that would require the Army Corps of Engineers to spill more water for fish at eight Columbia and Snake river dams starting next year.
Environmentalists said the increased spill over the dams would deliver out-migrating juvenile salmon more quickly and safely to the ocean.
But Northwest RiverPartners – which includes farmers, utilities, ports and businesses – said the spill would increase electric bills in the Northwest while doing little to help fish and possibly even harming them. Too much spill creates high gas levels in the water that can harm juvenile fish.
Newhouse said the Snake River dams not only supply renewable and affordable energy to the Northwest, but play a role in flood control, navigation, irrigation and recreation.
“There is still work to be done, but dams and fish can coexist,” McMorris Rodgers said.
The Northwest Energy Coalition, an alliance of environmental and other organizations, said McMorris Rodgers’ introduction of the legislation was ill-timed, coming as adult returns to the Columbia and Snake rivers and their tributaries are expected to be significantly lower this year than last.
“This legislative proposal is misguided, counter-productive and based on an extremely poor understanding of the plight of our salmon and any realistic changes to how Columbia Basin hydro-system would operate to better protect salmon,” said Bill Arthur of the Sierra Club.
In addition to McMorris Rodgers and Newhouse, the bill was introduced by Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash.; Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Greg Walden, R-Ore.
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