WAWG, others urge for removal of funds to study breaching of lower Snake River dams

The following letter was sent to the members of the Senate Ways & Means Committee on April 2, 2019. Twenty-six groups signed on in support of the letter, including the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, Washington Farm Bureau, transportation associations, electric groups and more. 

Members of the Senate Ways & Means Committee:

We are urging you to remove the $750,000 in funding in Section 117 of PSSB 5153 (the biennial operating budget) for a study of breaching of the lower Snake River dams. We make this request for the following reasons:

This issue remains profoundly controversial and divisive, and the general issue of Snake River dam operations is already being thoroughly studied under the federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion and the comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement associated with that effort. A parallel state study, which is less comprehensive and with far less funding, will divide the interests who are working to recover Orca whales and will not occur within a time frame that will provide meaningful progress in Orca recovery efforts.

The Snake River is a key part of the transportation and agricultural sectors of our economy. It also provides reliable, carbon-free power that underpins our baseline power needs.

The facts are that juvenile fish survival rates past each of the eight federal dams on this river are between 95 percent and 98 percent. In addition, returns of chinook, sockeye and steelhead on the Snake River have been on an increasing trend for 25 years.

Extreme measures such as dam breaching have been studied and rejected many times over the years. The State of Washington and the tribal community have steadfastly defended the existing federal Biological Opinion process. Instead of pursuing this divisive path, we need to renew our investments in fish passage, habitat and other river improvements that have led to a dramatic increase in Snake River fish returns over the past 10 years.

In addition, these dams are 100 percent federally owned, and state measures to remove them are simply the wrong approach. The federal agencies are required to explore a range of reasonable alternatives for long-term system operations that accounts for flood control, irrigation, power generation, navigation, fish and wildlife, cultural resources and recreation. The federal EIS and Record of Decision are on track for completion by September 2020. Funding a state study needlessly diverts funds that could be used more effectively in other Orca and fish-recovery efforts.