OLYMPIA, Wash. - U.S. Senator Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee announced a draft report weighing the decision to breach the Lower Snake River Dams.
The release of the report also kicks off a one-month public comment period running until July 11.
Conservationists have been pushing for the dam to be breached for decades, warning that local salmon and steelhead populations are on the brink of extinction.
In 2021, Idaho GOP Rep. Mike Simpson gave his own $33.5 billion proposal, with the aim of preserving fish life and pushing for investment in clean energy. It drew both criticism from colleagues and support from local tribes and environmentalists.
At the time, Inslee called the idea "bold" and "transformative," but did not throw his full support behind it.
The draft report itself does not make any recommendations on whether the four dams should be breached. A decision on that divisive issue is expected later. Instead, the report allows the public, tribes, river users and other stakeholders to provide input over the next month that will inform that decision.
Finding other ways to provide electricity, irrigation and enabling commerce would cost between $10.3 billion and $27.2 billion, according to the report.
However, it would significantly improve the ability of salmon and steelhead to swim from their inland spawning grounds to the Pacific Ocean, where they spend most of their lives, and then back to their original spawning grounds to procreate and die.
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Major benefits of the dams include making the Snake River navigable up to Lewiston, Idaho, allowing barges to carry wheat and other crops to ocean ports. Eliminating the dams would require truck and rail transportation improvements to move crops, the report said.
The dams also generate electricity, provide irrigation water for farmers and recreation opportunities for people, the report said.
The U.S. government has spent more than $17 billion trying to recover Snake River salmon, through improvements to fish ladders and other measures, with little to show for it. The number of Chinook salmon returning to the Snake River dropped from 16 million in 1805 to below 10,000 in 2017.
Murray and Inslee released a joint statement on the draft report:
"We continue to approach the question of breaching with open minds and without a predetermined decision. From the start, we have placed public and stakeholder engagement from communities across the Pacific Northwest as the foundation of any regional process. This continues to include consultation and advisement by federally recognized Tribes whose unique perspectives and sovereignty each of us deeply appreciates. We value the diverse perspective of the many stakeholders who have already provided input toward the independent draft report, and we look forward to hearing much more as this document is available for public review.
"Every community in the Pacific Northwest knows the value and importance of our iconic salmon runs—and every community recognizes the importance of salmon to our economy and cultural heritage. We each remain firmly committed to saving our salmon. We also know that the dams provide significant benefits to our region’s economy and communities. In the coming weeks, we will carefully review and consider public input, tribal consultation, and other engagement from stakeholders before making any recommendations."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.