White House report says removing dams might be needed to save salmon. Here's what Idaho leaders are saying.
A pair of reports released by the Biden Administration Tuesday say removing at least one of the four lower Snake River dams may be necessary to restore salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers.
One of the reports was produced by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nez Perce Tribe and the State of Oregon.
Justin Hayes, the executive director of the Idaho Conservation League, said it is the administration’s most definitive statement on the dams yet.
“It makes it very clear that removing the four lower Snake River dams needs to occur if we’re going to restore abundant salmon and steelhead into Idaho,” Hayes said.
The White House has not endorsed dam breaching yet, but the report, which focused on actions needed to achieve healthy fish stocks, said the move would be “essential” for the recovery of the species on the Snake River. It also said status quo efforts aren’t working well enough.
The second report, commissioned by the Bonneville Power Administration, was focused on costs associated with removing the dams, from economic and power generation standpoints. It found that removing the Snake River dams and meeting clean energy goals is possible, but it would be a costly proposition, ranging from $11 to $20 billion.
Idaho Governor Brad Little reiterated his opposition to taking out the dams Tuesday and said it was “disappointing” that the reports didn’t address Idaho’s considerations in the basin.
“If Biden is truly interested in identifying broadly supported solutions,” Little wrote in a statement, “I would encourage his administration to look at the 20 months of work our diverse Idaho Salmon Workgroup put into identifying 29 solutions that support salmon, our economy, and thriving communities.”
Hayes said he hopes the administration follows the science presented in the reports and moves forward with efforts to breach the dams.
He also said if that happens, there will be a need for infrastructure investments for affected communities – whether because of a lack of options to transport grain, or a lack of hydroelectric power.
U.S. Congressman Mike Simpson announced a $34 billion initiative last year to remove the lower Snake River dams, and to support the industries, including in Idaho, that they support.
The Nez Perce Tribe and Columbia Basin Tribes support Simpson’s proposal.
Congressman Russ Fulcher and U.S. Senator Jim Risch both denounced the reports Tuesday.
“Only Congress – not the President – has the authority to remove these dams. Now more than ever, I remain adamantly opposed to breaching the dams on the Lower Snake River,” Risch said in a statement.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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