Feds Acknowledge, Take No Action on Plan to Store Fish in Columbia River

A Chinook that’s ready to spawn. File photo via Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

White House officials have recognized that two new reports aimed at restoring salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia River meet federal and state clean energy goals, but say what is really needed is a long-term strategy to manage the river basin.

The first report was written by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with input from the Nez Perce Tribe and the state of Oregon. Actions identified propose significant reductions in direct and indirect mortality from mainstem dams, including breaching one or more Lower Snake River dams.

State and tribal fish managers were expected to review the report over a 30-day period.

The second report was commissioned by the Energy Department’s Bonneville Power Administration and conducted by E3, a private consulting firm. It presents a range of power production scenarios and costs associated with replacing the electrical power from four federal dams on the Lower Snake River, should Congress authorize such action. That study predicted that replacing the energy and grid services provided by those dams would cost up to $19 billion.

Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in a statement released by the White House on July 12 that “business as usual will not restore the health and abundance of Pacific Northwest salmon. We need a durable, inclusive and regionally crafted long-term strategy for the management of the Columbia River Basin.”

A draft proposal released in early June by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., underlined benefits of removing the Icy Harbor Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite earthen dams, but did not urge their immediate removal.

“The importance of the comprehensive suite of actions listed cannot be overstated,” NOAA officials said of their report.  “It is also important to recognize that, within this suite, several centerpiece actions are paramount for specific stocks. For Snake River stocks, it is essential that the lower Snake River be restored via dam breaching.”

“These two reports add to the picture that we are working alongside regional leaders to develop—of what it will take over the decades ahead to restore salmon populations, honor our commitments to tribal nations, deliver lean power and meet the many needs of stakeholders across the region,” Mallory said.