The long-running debate over the future of the four Lower Snake River dams reached the U.S. Capitol today during a House Energy, Climate, and Grid Security subcommittee hearing. The letter, sent yesterday and signed by 28 conservation and outdoor recreation groups across the PNW, implores Congress to meet this moment of great urgency and opportunity for our region. Following the historic agreement reached by the Biden Administration, Tribal Nations, and the states of Washington and Oregon in December, Washington Wild and our partners are asking Congress to help secure funding and advance programs to replace the services of the Snake River dams so we can restore the river and breach the dams by 2030 at the latest.
The Latest Agreement
Marking an important step forward, the agreement announced by the White House in December provides a multi-year pause in litigation to allow for the implementation of commitments, actions, and federal investments identified by The Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative (CBRI), a groundbreaking and visionary joint proposal from the “Six Sovereigns” (the states of Washington and Oregon and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Spring Reservation, and the Nez Perce Tribe).
The CBRI offers a comprehensive roadmap to utilize more than half a billion dollars in new federal funding to restore the lower Snake River by replacing and modernizing irrigation, energy, and transportation infrastructure while providing significant economic benefits to Tribes and communities throughout the Columbia and Snake River Basins, building climate resiliency, and working to prevent the loss of our imperiled salmon and orca populations.
The Dams Cannot Come Down Without Congress
While some Republicans have accused the White House of cutting “a secret back-room deal to please radical environmentalists” and warned that removing the dams would “destroy the lives of the people [they] represent”, the agreement does not authorize breaching the four Lower Snake River dams—that authorization can only come from Congress.
Jeremy Takala, a member of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council, objected to the idea that the four tribes involved in the agreement—the Yakama, Nez Perce, Warm Springs, and Umatilla—don’t represent the people who rely on the Columbia River and its tributaries, including the Snake.
The Yakama Nation is not a radical environmental special-interest group. Our inherent, sovereign rights and privileges are recognized and guaranteed by the treaty we signed with the U.S. in 1855.
—Jeremy Takala, a member of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council, part of testimony during the January 30th hearing
As this issue becomes more prevalent on the national stage and lawmakers from outside the PNW become more involved in the decision-making process, we must continue to fight against misinformation. Ultimately, Congress has an essential role to play in helping develop and implement a comprehensive solution that will restore healthy and abundant salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers, provide a long overdue measure of justice for Native American Tribes, invest in a clean and affordable energy grid, and ensure healthy communities and a successful transition to a sustainable, climate-resilient future.
The Science is Clear
Salmon and steelhead are an integral part of life in the Northwest. They are the foundation of an entire ecosystem from forests to orcas; they support multi-billion dollar industries and family-wage jobs from commercial fishing to tourism and manufacturing in rural communities; and most importantly, they are indispensable to the cultures and ways of life for many Northwest Tribes that have relied on them since time immemorial and to whom we owe solemn legal responsibility enshrined in treaties and other agreements.
The Columbia and Snake rivers were once the largest salmon-producing river system in the contiguous United States, but now many runs— and all of those that still return to the Snake River—are listed as endangered or threatened. Many others have already been lost. Decades of scientific study confirm that the federal hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers play a leading role in these devastating declines.
A 2022 report from NOAA concluded that even in a warming world, we can restore Snake River salmon and steelhead to healthy and abundant levels—if and only if we restore the lower Snake River by breaching its four costly federal dams.