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Bill to protect lower Snake River dams advances

An angler fishes for salmon in the Snake River above the Lower Granite Dam. Spill over the dam and four other Lower Snake River dams increased this month.
An angler fishes for salmon in the Snake River above the Lower Granite Dam. Spill over the dam and four other Lower Snake River dams increased this month. AP

A U.S. House committee will consider a bill intended to protect the operation of lower Snake River dams on Wednesday.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., met with community, business and agriculture leaders on Tuesday in Kennewick, with many of them telling him they opposed both increased spill of water over the dams and also breaching the dams.

At the meeting, Newhouse said he had received assurances from House leadership that the bipartisan bill would be considered soon in committee.

Now the bill has been scheduled to be “marked up” Wednesday by the Committee on Natural Resources, Newhouse announced Wednesday, along with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.

It then could advance to the full House for a vote this month. It still would need Senate approval to become law.

On April 2, more water began to be spilled over the four lower Snake River dams, as ordered by a federal judge, to help young salmon on their way toward the ocean.

Water that is spilled cannot be used to produce inexpensive electricity, which increases the utility bills for Northwest ratepayers. Some opponents of the spill say it could harm, rather than help, salmon.

The bill would keep the status quo at the dams from Ice Harbor Dam near Burbank upriver to Lower Granite Dam until at least 2022.

Now the dams are managed under a plan called Federal Columbia River Biological Opinion, or BiOp, through 2022. It was created by a collaboration of federal agencies, states and tribes during the administration of President Barack Obama to protect salmon while operating dams.

But U.S. District Judge Michael Simon in Portland, who ordered the extra spill, also ordered a new environmental study of the Columbia and Snake rivers hydrosystem. The study is required to look at the benefits and drawbacks of tearing down the four lower Snake River dams.

Next week more water will be released at the lower Columbia River dams, by the judge’s order.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews

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