Gov. Jay Inslee says he is committed to preserving the benefits of hydropower generated through dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers in a manner that is in balance with protecting and restoring salmon.
So, too, are we. And so is U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane. This is why McMorris Rodgers has proposed protecting the four Lower Snake River dams from a federal judge’s overzealous ruling.
“After 20 years of litigation, we must get out of the courtroom and continue investments into habitat restoration and fish recovery,” McMorris Rodgers said. “That’s what my bipartisan bill ensures.”
Inslee, a Democrat, seems to be looking at this issue narrowly — as if allowing one judge to impose his will will save fish.
McMorris Rodgers is looking at the big picture. It’s about the need to generate hydropower for the Pacific Northwest, keep salmon healthy by ensuring healthy conditions in the rivers and maintain the dams that allow transportation on the river as well as irrigation for crops.
Spilling more water over the dams, as ordered by Judge Michael Simon, will hurt salmon. Spilling too much water creates high gas levels in the water that can harm juvenile fish.
McMorris Rodgers’ legislation would effectively overturn Simon’s April decision that requires the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to spill more water for fish at eight Columbia and Snake River dams starting next year.
This would be done by keeping in place the Federal Columbia River Biological Opinion, often referred to as BiOp, until 2022. BiOp is the plan created by a collaboration of federal agencies, states and tribes to protect salmon while continuing to operate dams for hydropower.
But Simon’s ruling goes beyond simply mandating spilling more water; it also requires taking down the dams to be considered.
That’s an option that would create economic devastation in the Pacific Northwest.
Dam breaching has been studied, and it’s clear tearing down the four Snake River dams would be an enormous blunder. The water from a free-flowing Snake would flood farms, roadways, homes and even cities.
It would also make it impossible to ship via the rivers. If crops and other goods could no longer be barged down the river, it would force products to be hauled by trucks on the roadways. Boosting the truck traffic would be environmentally irresponsible.
About 3,700 farmers grow wheat and barley in the Pacific Northwest, most of which is shipped by barge to Portland to be exported overseas. A tug pushing a barge can haul a ton of wheat 576 miles on 1 gallon of fuel.
Inslee is on the wrong side of this issue. Keeping the dams intact and allowing the experts to manage spills over the dams in a way that’s best for fish should be the course of action.
McMorris Rodgers’ legislation would do just that.