Late last week, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown sent a letter to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee supporting the restoration of the Snake River, saying that removing the four federal dams on the lower portion of the waterway must be part of a comprehensive plan to save endangered salmon, steelhead and orcas.
“We greatly appreciate Gov. Brown’s leadership in calling for a collaborative strategy that both restores the lower Snake River for salmon and orcas and invests in the necessary infrastructure to keep rural inland communities vibrant. We believe that through collaborative efforts, like Gov. Inslee’s Lower Snake River Stakeholder Forum, the region can create a viable plan to recover salmon, save orcas, and support rural communities from the coast to the Palouse,” said Defenders of Wildlife Senior Representative in Oregon, Sristi Kamal.
Gov. Brown sent the letter after Inslee held a series of meetings across Washington to discuss the threat of extinction for orca and the Snake River salmon that make up a critical part of their diet. He is gathering diverse perspectives from stakeholders about removing these four dams to better understand how the state can restore the river while supporting coastal fishing and inland farming communities. A final report from Gov. Inslee’s effort is expected in early March.
Gov. Brown said removing the earthen portions of the four dams would reduce mortality of wild and hatchery salmon associated with passage through the dams and reservoirs. It would also reduce water temperatures in the lower Snake and Columbia rivers, and aid salmon migration to and from the Pacific Ocean, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
The Fish Passage Center, an inter-government research agency charged with studying salmonid survival throughout the Columbia Basin, predicts that by removing these four dams, salmon returns would increase to a point that up to a million adult salmon coming back to the Snake River every year. No other salmon restoration project being considered has the potential to restore this many fish.
The State of Oregon, the Nez Perce Tribe and the Bonneville Power Administration organized an agreement between all four Northwest states and the Native American tribes to aid salmon migration by releasing more water, except when the power can bring the most revenue. This “flex-spill” agreement began a collaborative process that Brown urged Inslee to continue. Flex-spills provide more fish for orcas but it is not a long-term solution.
“Hopefully we can work together to improve on that agreement, which will enhance survival of juvenile wild and hatchery salmon which translate into additional orca forage only two years later,” said Gov. Brown’s letter.
Federal dam managers are expected to release a draft environmental study of the region’s power system at the end of this month, as ordered by a federal judge. One of the alternatives being considered is breaching all four of the lower Snake River dams, which is anticipated to be the only alternative that would restore salmon to healthy, harvestable levels for orcas and people.