The Northwest loves its cheap hydropower. But it also loves its salmon and steelhead. Unfortunately, something’s got to give—dams across the Columbia and Snake rivers have proven deadly to migrating fish, and years upon years of government-ordered efforts to recover salmon and steelhead have failed.
Taxpayers have footed a $17 billion bill and have virtually nothing to show for it.
But the tide might be turning. This week, a broad coalition of regional and local utility companies joined conservation groups and transportation interests and wrote a letter to the governors of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana asking them to engage in the tricky business of resurrecting the salmon and steelhead runs in the Snake River basin.
The letter does not include a unified call for dam removal—particularly the four most egregious dams on the Snake. But there is communication among long-time adversaries that hints at potential progress. From a biological perspective, dam removal is necessary if salmon and steelhead in the Snake River basin are to have a real shot at recovery. Conservation groups and even some politicians (Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson) have openly discussed dam removal as the most promising option for wild fish recovery.
“It is clear that there is an urgent need for the region and all of us whose well-being is tied to the Columbia and Snake Rivers to come together to identify the actions and investments needed to recover harvestable salmon and steelhead populations, conserve other fish and wildlife, honor and protect tribal needs and way of life, and strengthen the electricity and agricultural services that communities rely on,” the letter reads in part. “A well-designed regional strategic vision and plan that moves all interests forward together is the way these interconnected challenges will be solved.”
Though there is no mention of dam removal—despite research which shows that, in order for salmon and steelhead to once again return in significant numbers to spawning rivers and streams in eastern Oregon and Idaho, the dams must come out—wild steelhead and salmon advocates are hopeful this coalition of often-competing interests shows promise.
Read the full letter below.