House legislation would protect four Lower Snake River dams
Last updated 6/9/2022 at 2:57pm
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Eastern Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, helped get legislation approved by the U.S House of Representatives on Wednesday night that includes language to protect four Lower Snake River dams.
"Salmon and dams can-and-do co-exist,” she said Thursday. “Study after study has shown the critical benefits the Lower Snake River dams provide to our region: affordable and reliable hydropower, low-emissions transportation of goods, and irrigation for farmers in Washington who feed the world."
The Water Resources Development Act is the biannual bill to address water resources infrastructure funding, as well as Army Corps of Engineers projects for navigation, flood damage reduction, and ecosystem restoration. The language protecting the dams was included in the House version of the act, McMorris Rodgers said.
Of 13 endangered salmon and steelhead species in the Columbia River Basin, only four travel the length of the Columbia River and through the Lower Snake dams.
McMorris Rodgers said the importance of the dams to navigation and energy production will be explored by a newly established Columbia River Basin Trust and Task Force. That group will be made up of stakeholders with an interest in endangered salmon and the benefits of the river system.
The group will be tasked with developing a restoration plan for the basin and help inform federal investments aimed at restoring endangered salmon while preserving power generation, navigation and irrigation benefits.
"This provision expressly prohibits the Army Corps from taking action to breach the dams,” McMorris Rodgers said. “It’s time for all stakeholders to come together and recognize that recovering endangered salmon is going to take smart investments in habitat restoration, fish passage in blocked areas, better management of predators, and a clear understanding of what is happening to fish in the ocean. I’m hopeful the Columbia River Basin Trust can help put us on a better path.”
The legislation also creates an even playing field for Pacific Northwest ratepayers as Columbia River Treaty negotiations proceed, she said.
"Ratepayers in Eastern Washington have subsidized the hydropower the United States sends to Canada for far too long,” she said. “With the flood control provisions of the Columbia River Treaty set to expire in less than two years, it is critical that we position ourselves to mitigate flood risks with our own infrastructure.
"Ratepayers in Washington cannot continue to be held hostage, which is why it is so important to give the Army Corps the tools it needs to ensure we can meet our flood control needs without relying on Canada."
Last fall, McMorris Rodgers and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, sent a bipartisan bicameral letter to President Joe Biden urging his administration to prioritize the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty and to provide regular, substantive updates to Congress on the status of its modernization.
In March, McMorris Rodgers also urged the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to protect the Lower Snake River dams and prioritize the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty as part of the Water Resources Development Act.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Sen Patty Murray, D-Bothell, both Democrats, have backed plans to breach the dams.
Last October, Murray, a member of Senate Democratic leadership, announced she would push Congress to authorize a federal study of the cost and impact of breaching the dams.