In an unsettlingly close vote, the Washington state Senate decided to formally oppose any proposal that would breach the lower Snake River dams.
Senate Joint Memorial 8004 was approved 26-23, and now awaits action in the House.
Our Mid-Columbia representatives need to get behind this important policy position and do their best to move it forward. If anything, this is an opportunity to educate their colleagues on the vital economic benefits the dams provide, and the havoc that would be created statewide if they disappeared.
Unlike bills, state legislative memorials do not go to the governor for a signature. If approved by both the Senate and the House, they are filed directly with the Secretary of State.
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Essentially, they are designed to send a message to the President, Congress and the heads of federal and state agencies. They also provide an additional tool for our federal lawmakers when they try to influence national policy and law.
On the issue of the Snake River dams, we need all the help we can get to thwart the persistent attempts to remove them.
Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, said, “It is baffling to me that we are even having this conversation.” She found it alarming that the Senate vote on the joint memorial was so tight.
We do too.
Brown said it just goes to show that many people who do not live near the dams — or who directly rely on them — don’t fully understand the economic impact the dams have on agriculture, jobs, energy production, transportation and tourism.
Environmental groups concerned about salmon runs have pushed for decades to breach the four lower Snake River dams — Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and the Lower Granite.
And their cause got a boost last May when a federal judge in Portland ruled that the massive habitat restoration effort by the U.S. government does not do nearly enough to improve Northwest salmon runs.
He ordered a new environmental impact statement that considers whether tearing out the dams would save wild salmon.
Compounding that concern, fishing and environmental groups last month filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This one seeks cooler water for salmon in the Columbia River system, which is in response to the devastating affect unusually warm water in 2015 had on migrating adult sockeye salmon.
The groups filing the suit contend the dams are responsible for the water’s rise in temperature.
However, the federal agencies responsible for operating dams in the Columbia River Basin released a report two weeks ago showing that efforts to improve fish runs are working, and that survival rates for many species are higher than they have been in decades.
In addition, last year’s report from the governor’s Salmon Recovery Office showed that while there is still a ways to go, the number of six fish species is increasing in the state, and that Snake River fall chinook is one of two species approaching federally approved recovery goals.
Nevertheless, the effort to breach the Snake River dams never seems to go away, no matter how many more fish are surviving.
Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, is vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy, Environment and Telecommunications and was chief sponsor of the memorial.
He has called the dams "a unique asset" for the state and wants them protected. We could use more westside lawmakers like him on our side.
On his website, Sheldon said that by passing the measure, the Senate has “gone on record against foolishness.”
We are grateful for that. Now the House should do the same.