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Representative Simpson Proposes a Bold New Vision for the Snake River (WA/OR/ID)

Posted: 02/07/2021
By: Thomas O'Keefe

Anyone who has boated the Middle Fork Salmon at the end of the season has seen the handful of markers indicating Chinook salmon redds (or nests), the fragile remaining legacy of one of the great biological wonders of the world. Despite hundreds of miles of clean, cold water in the Salmon River basin, and extreme measures that include very specific guidelines for floaters and limitations on permits (see Chinook salmon in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Forest Service website), these fish are just barely holding on. The problem: a series of dams that are responsible for a downward spiral of fewer and fewer salmon accessing the high quality habitat of the Salmon River watershed.

 

After three years of careful study and conversations, Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID-2) has dared to challenge the status quo and proposed an end to the cycle of litigation the region has been in over the fate of salmon and the four Lower Snake River Dams (see his video message). Representative Simpson introduced an Energy and Salmon Concept (plan details on his website) that includes a proposal to breach the four Lower Snake River Dams while making significant regional investments in salmon conservation, recreation, transportation, agriculture, and energy.

 

The $33 billion proposal would provide for restoration of the lower Snake River, along with the funding and implementation of habitat restoration and fish protection projects. The goal is restoration of abundant, harvestable salmon that honors the treaty promises made to Northwest tribes by upholding their right to access fish. These fish also represent a critical ecosystem component of the Salmon River watershed. The proposal includes investments in rail and port development in the Tri-Cities and Lewiston-Clarkston that will enhance the commodity transportation system so agricultural producers and transporters can maintain economical access to markets for goods.

 

For recreational users the proposal includes designation of a Lower Snake River National Recreation Area that will create new opportunities for family-friendly accessible recreation for resident and visitors (boating, camping, and fishing). Communities along the river would be reconnected through the river through waterfront revitalization investments.

 

The energy produced by the four lower Snake River dams would be replaced by a portfolio of clean energy sources, including solar, wind, demand response, energy efficiency, and storage. This would better position our regional energy system for the future by diversifying renewable energy sources.

 

The proposal would have a direct impact on our work in hydropower licensing as all federally-licensed dams in the Columbia River Basin greater than 5 MW (that have produced power for sale in 3 of the last 5 years) would receive an automatic 35-year extension of their license in addition to their currently licensed period with the total maximum extension length not to exceed 50 years (this includes projects like Chelan that affects the Chelan Gorge, Cowlitz Falls at the take-out on the Cispus River, Pelton Round Butte that affects flows on the Deschutes River, Clackamas that affects flows and access on the Clackamas River, and others). The plan would also put a 35 year litigation moratorium on legal action under the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Clean Water Act. Options would still remain however to remove uneconomic projects in the basin with the creation of a $500 million incentive fund for dam or diversion entities to voluntarily remove or mitigate their river structure.

 

American Whitewater is encouraged by the proposal Representative Simpson has introduced that directly affects our interests and the work we do throughout the Columbia River Basin. We appreciate his leadership in moving the conversation forward and focusing on solutions. For it to be successful, additional Members of the Pacific Northwest Congressional Delegation need to join him. We call on them to do that and work together on a regionally-based bipartisan solution that benefits the region's rivers and the salmon that depend on them.

 

In the News

 

At long last, a workable plan to remove Lower Snake River dams and save Idaho’s salmon
By The Editorial Board, Idaho Statesman
February 07, 2021

 

GOP congressman pitches $34 billion plan to breach Lower Snake River dams in new vision for Northwest
By Lynda Mapes, Seattle Times
Feb. 7, 2021

 

Simpson plan for Snake River dams, salmon restoration shows promise with supporters, critics
By Nicole Blanchard, Idaho Statesman
February 07, 2021

 

Thomas O'Keefe

3537 NE 87th St.

Seattle, WA 98115

Phone: 425-417-9012
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