By Betsy Emery, Advocacy and Campaign Manager
February 7, 2021
N orthwest Steelheaders has been waiting for this moment for over 48 years. Today, U.S. Representative Simpson (R-ID) announced a groundbreaking proposal for a comprehensive $33.5 billion infrastructure package to recover Columbia River salmon and steelhead by restoring a free-flowing lower Snake River.
Rep. Simpson’s package is designed to provide stability and security to the many Northwest communities that are impacted by and benefit from the lower Snake River dams. This is the first time a federal legislator has stepped in to introduce concrete solutions that not only sustain, but improve the recreational fishing industry that relies on abundant, harvestable salmon.
After nearly two years of regional collaboration among unlikely partners, including recreational anglers, elected officials, tribes, farmers, commercial anglers, and other stakeholders, Simpson's package identifies strategic investments that will not only recover abundant, harvestable salmon throughout the region, but modernize energy and transportation infrastructure and invest in rural economies.
“My staff and I approached this challenge with the idea that there must be a way to restore Idaho’s salmon and keep the four lower Snake River dams, but after exhausting dozens of possible solutions, we weren’t able to find one,” Simpson said in his announcement. “In the end, we realized there is no viable path that can allow us to keep the dams in place.”
While the $33.5 billion price tag seems costly, it is only an estimated 1.5% of President Biden’s proposed infrastructure package. Simpson’s “Columbia Basin Fund” proposes almost $10 billion in funding to replace the 1,000 megawatt hours the lower Snake River dams generate with wind and solar facilities, as well as $1 billion to build a “Snake River Center for Advanced Energy Storage” to store energy. The Fund also proposes $2 billion to optimize the Northwest energy grid.
Transportation + Infrastructure Investments
- $1.5 billion to support grain transportation infrastructure within the lower Snake River corridor
- $600 million to build a road and rail transportation hub in Tri-Cities
The proposal also identifies significant funding needs to recover salmon and promote river-based recreation. Specifically, Simpson’s proposes allocating the following funding in the Columbia Basin Fund:
- $1 billion to remove the earthen section of the lower Snake River dams
- $300 million to support tourism and economic development in the Tri-City area, including waterfront revitalization
- $75 million to support a “Salmon Conservation Corps” administered through NW states and tribes
- $400 million to protect sturgeon in Hells Canyon
- $700 million in what is referred to as “priority salmon investment” for Tribes
- $600 million per year in annual fish funding to support salmon restoration and conservation throughout the Basin.
- $700 million to protect salmon runs in the upper Columbia River basin through improved fish passage.
- $75 million in an “impacted sport fishing contingency fund”
- $125 million in a “lower Snake River recreation fund”
- $50 million to compensate recreational boat owners with flatwater boats
“The recreational angling community has been pressing for salmon recovery in the Columbia River Basin for decades. Today, Rep. Simpson answered our calls with a blueprint for the largest river and salmon restoration effort in history, while also creating jobs and strengthening the energy and agriculture sectors,” said Chris Hager, executive director at Northwest Steelheaders.
Agencies have spent more than 40 years implementing all of the management tweaks they can think of to recover salmon runs, only to see wild adult returns drop year after year. Despite $17 billion dollars spent on habitat restoration projects, six court opinions supporting the need for urgent recovery, and almost two decades of science linking the lower Snake River dams to Basin-wide declines, the Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration have resisted calls to breach the four dams.
Simpson’s announcement comes at a time when salmon and steelhead runs throughout the region are teetering on the brink of extinction. “These fish have been persisting at a low level for decades. Many of the populations are only one catastrophic event away from extinction, and in the face of climate change, the risk of a potentially catastrophic event increases each year,” said Tucker Jones, ocean and Columbia River salmon program manager at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Simpson closed his announcement video with a chilling reminder, “I am certain that if we do not take this course of action, we are condemning Idaho salmon to extinction.”
“We finally have a legislator in Representative Simpson with leadership and foresight to work with these communities toward a win-win solution that protects agriculture and ratepayers, as well as fish,” said Norm Ritchie, long-time Northwest Steelheaders board member and advocate.
We applaud Rep. Simpson for introducing a bold, innovative framework to recover endangered salmon and steelhead and create stronger commercial and recreational fishing industries throughout the Basin. We can triple wild adult salmon returns by breaching the lower Snake River dams, but only if the other Northwest legislators join Simpson’s effort.
We need our members of Congress to get involved in Simpson’s effort so we can restore a free-flowing lower Snake River; recover salmon and steelhead to abundance; strengthen our regional agriculture, energy, and tourism sectors; and ensure a reliable, affordable clean energy future.
TAKE ACTION: Email your elected representatives and urge them to collaborate with Representative Simpson’s office in creating a comprehensive legislation package that restores a free-flowing lower Snake River.