Recently, a pair of announcements from the Biden Administration and two Washington elected leaders renewed momentum around restoring the lower Snake River.
On October 21, participants in litigation around dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers announced a temporary pause on legal action. ICL has been part of the case for more than a year. Alongside ten other fishing and conservation groups, the State of Oregon, and the Nez Perce Tribe, ICL challenged federal agencies over their operation of the Columbia-Snake River system of dams, which jeopardize the future of wild Snake River salmon and steelhead. While breaching the lower Snake River dams is essential for restoring the fish to abundance, part of the lawsuit focused on forcing dam operators to change operations to minimize their impact on fish.
In a significant development, the parties to the case agreed to a “stay” of the case for about ten months. In 2022, the dams will use modified operations (i.e., spilling more water) to benefit fish. With the court case on hold, the two sides will work together to create a “long-term comprehensive solution.” To us, this means dam removal. The science is clear, any “comprehensive solution” must include the removal of the four lower Snake River dams. In a statement signed by five high-level officials, the Biden Administration promised a “fresh look” at the issues affecting the communities and economies of the Columbia River Basin. Legal action will continue if the plaintiffs and defendants don’t agree to resolve the lawsuit before July 2022.
Following on the heels of this news, Washington Senator Patty Murray and Governor Jay Inslee released a statement the next day announcing a “federal-state process on salmon recovery.” Murray and Inslee will work for the next several months to determine how to replace the services provided by the lower Snake River dams. Their statement acknowledges the need for urgency: their Salmon Action Plan will be complete before July 31, 2022. In addition, they recognized the prior work of others on this subject, including Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson’s Columbia Basin Initiative.
This federal-state process–involving Murray, Inslee, and the federal agencies–is in many ways duplicative of what Simpson set out to accomplish. After years of analysis and stakeholder outreach, Simpson and his staff determined how to replace the services provided by the dams and how to make additional investments in the region that would aid salmon restoration and create prosperous communities. His $33.5 billion infrastructure proposal remains on the table. We hope Murray, Inslee, and their Democratic colleagues will view the proposal as a model and work across the aisle to enact similar legislation into law.
ICL remains committed to quickly implementing a comprehensive solution that restores salmon and steelhead to abundance and makes all Northwest communities whole. It is clear that change is coming: federal and state leaders have acknowledged that the status quo on the Snake River is not sustainable. The time is now for real action on salmon, orca, and Tribal justice. Murray, Inslee, and the Biden-Harris Administration must be swift and decisive in their work and deliver legislation to breach the lower Snake River dams by the end of 2022.
The next several months will be full of action. Democrats and Republicans are involved, and the Administration will play a key role in determining how to restore these species and keep our nation’s promises to Northwest Tribes. Now, more than ever, Northwest elected officials must understand the importance of this issue and the urgent need for significant action this year. Salmon, orcas, and Northwest communities cannot wait any longer.