Future salmon runs, agriculture and cheap power at stake as public reviews breaching of 4 Snake River dams

Should they stay or should they go: that’s been the question for decades regarding several dams along the Snake River.

At stake is the survival of the orca, which feed on the depleted salmon runs coming from the river.  Also at stake is farms in the Columbia River Basin that draw water from reservoirs behind the dams and the cheap hydroelectric power those dams produce.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee released a draft environmental report this week on the possibility of breaching of four dams on the Lower Snake River.

"We are listening very carefully to all the stakeholders and everyone in this about what our next steps should be," Murray said on Friday. "There have been countless lawsuits and we need a review of the facts, that’s what this is all about." 

The draft report is not the final report and does not constitute a recommendation on whether the Lower Snake River Dams should be either breached or retained.

It does say that the dams could be removed with alternatives put in place for $10.3 billion to $27.2 billion.

"I think dams are going to go," said Joseph Bogaard, Executive Director of Save Our Wild Salmon.  

Opponents of breaching the dams believe otherwise.

"As it sits right now, it’s not very specific and it's largely a repeat of information that's largely been published," says Darryll Olsen, a board member with the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association.

Bogaard says government efforts to revitalize salmon runs with the dams in place have not been significant.    

Public comment open for proposal to breach Lower Snake River Dams

U.S. Senator Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee announced a draft report weighing the decision to breach the Lower Snake River Dams.

"We have spent $18 to $20 million over the last 25 years and we haven't restored a single population, so a new approach is needed," he says.

There is also a large population that believes removing the dams would jeopardize the water supply to tens of thousands of acres of farmland and would strike a blow to the economy.

"As I've said for years, dams and fish can co-exist," says Republican Congressman Dan Newhouse, who represents much of the affected area.

But now with a price tag in the billions, Olsen says breaching is off the table because Congress doesn’t have an appetite to pay the bill and it’s too much for the state to do it alone.

"If you have to have Congressional authorization to do this, in our view everything is gone -- it's moot -- we don't have to worry about this question anymore. It’s gone" says Olsen.

Murray did not tip her hand when asked about a potential Congressional hesitation on the removal costs. She said she and Inslee have not made a decision leaning either way. 

Tiffany Smiley, Murray’s anticipated Republican opponent in the November election, issued a statement calling the draft report: "nothing more than a performative partisan measure that hurts the economy AND the environment".

"It’s a matter of political leadership and acting quickly while we still have these fish," says Bogaard.

The public has until July 11 to comment on the draft report. 

Inslee and Murray will review the public input and make a final recommendation later this summer.