Restoring the Lower Snake River

It's time to remove the four lower Snake River dams

Northwest Steelheaders is dedicated to removing the Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental, and Ice Harbor dams on the lower Snake River, which have been decimating salmon populations since their installation in the 1970s. Removing the dams is essential to protecting and rebuilding the endangered salmon and steelhead populations on the Columbia River's largest tributary. While the dams have proven to be both economically inefficient and a meager power source, removing them will help restore the benefits these native fish deliver to people and ecosystems across the Northwest, including feeding starving orcas, returning beloved public resources to the public, and bolstering an angling-oriented economy in the region.

“In 1995, in response to the ESA listing of Snake River salmon stocks, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) asked the Army Corps of Engineers to study the possibility of removing the lower Snake River dams. In the Army Corps report completed after four years of studying the problem, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that dam removal would best provide the highest certainty of saving the fish. Scientists from other agencies, including NMFS, also recommended dam removal. Oregon’s Governor John Kitzhaber astounded the region’s political establishment by calling for breaching the four Snake River dams. But by December 2000, when the NMFS issued its final plan, the focus had changed to delaying a decision on dam removal for at least eight years and instead relying on pilot projects, voluntary habitat improvements done by state, tribal, and private groups, and transporting fish around dams in trucks and barges” (Montgomery 2003, 201).

It has been 25 years since it was deemed necessary to remove the four lower Snake River dams, and yet, they still stand. Since the final construction of the Lower Snake River dams in the 1970s, 13 species of salmon and steelhead have been listed threatened according to the Endangered Species Act. Despite decades of habitat recovery attempts at the cost more than $17 billion, 2019 salmons returns remained perilously low, forcing emergency fishing closures — and economic devastation — in Washington and Idaho fishing communities.

How is it that dam removal is, to this day, considered a politically radical measure to salmon recovery on the Snake River? We’ve had scientific consensus for decades. As we well know, political posturing and industry lobbying leads to diluted policies that ignore biological truths while touting vague, hopeful outcomes. Salmon and steelhead on the Snake River cannot withstand another 25 years of feeble policy. It is time to stand together and breach the dams.

With 2019 salmon returns dropping to historic lows, we must rethink how we manage the lower Snake River and the negative impacts of the lower Snake River dams. Federal agencies have been tasked with developing a plan to save Snake River salmon from extinction. However, the most recent plan outlined in the DEIS written by US Army Corps of Engineers is wholly inadequate and must be dramatically expanded. The February 2020 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Snake-Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead analyzes several options for the future management of federal dams in the Columbia Basin, including one option that would remove the four dams on the Lower Snake River.

Unfortunately, despite the DEIS' recognition that restoring the lower Snake River would deliver the greatest survival benefits to Snake River fish compared to any of the other options, it instead recommends alternatives that will eventually lead to the extinction of Snake River salmon and steelhead. As proposed, it cannot recover salmon or provide our communities with economic security. This DEIS is only a minor modification to ineffective and costly plans that have failed over the last 25 years. The Northwest needs smarter solutions based on real science. This DEIS downplays the best scientific information, which shows that restoring the lower Snake River will provide the biggest available boost to increase salmon and steelhead runs, and it dismisses the benefits of increasing those runs for endangered orcas.

Resources

  • Governor Inslee’s Lower Snake River Stakeholder Report
  • Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)
  • How to Submit Public Comments on the DEIS
  • Talking Points for Contacting Legislators
  • Our Northwest Opportunity: Communities, Energy, and Salmon FAQ
  • In the Press

  • Tri-City Herald: Republicans, outraged by no dam-breaching session in Tri-Cities, get their way (Nov. 17, 2019)
  • Idaho Statesman Guest Opinion: Removing lower Snake River dams is best chance for salmon, steelhead recovery (Nov. 18, 2019)
  • Seattle Times: State budgets $750,000 for outreach over impacts of breaching Lower Snake River dams (April 30, 2019)
  • Tri-City Herald: Save the salmon — dams must go (January 10, 2020) Guest opinion piece by Northwest Steelheaders Hall-of-famer Buzz Ramsey
  • Tri-City Herald: Ore. governor calls tearing out Snake dams the best salmon solution. State reps are outraged (February 14, 2020)
  • Gov. Brown's Letter of Support to Gov. Inslee
  • Yakima Herald: Guest Opinion: Decisions on dams, salmon must be made together (March 15, 2020)