Columbia Basin Federal Caucus photo
The Lower Monumental Dam on the Snake River, near Kahlotus, Washington.
On Wednesday afternoon, Eastern Washington Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers celebrated the passage of her bill that would protect four Lower Snake River dams.
In a joint call with fellow Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse, whose neighboring district covers much of the Columbia River from Grand Coulee Dam south, McMorris Rodgers thanked her fellow representatives in the House for their support. The bill, H.R. 3144, passed 225 to 189.
"It’s really recognizing the role that the dams play in the Pacific Northwest and that dams and fish can coexist," McMorris Rodgers said. "It's a story we really need to tell not just to the Northwest but to the entire country."
If passed through the Senate and signed by the president, the bill would stop additional water spill over eight dams that was started in early April. The additional spill was required after a federal judge and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that it was necessary to protect juvenile salmon and help them move out to sea
The legislation also would put in place a 2014 plan put together by federal agencies, regional tribes and others to protect salmon and steelhead trout while operating the dams. The courts rejected that plan and the federal government was ordered to go back and study other ways to protect the species, including looking at the potential to breach the four Lower Snake River dams.
But the new legislation would instead put that 2014 plan in place through 2022, when it would be up for review again and require an act of Congress before agencies could study breaching the dams.
McMorris Rodgers said putting the 2014 plan in place would still protect fish while ending a lengthy court process.
"We’ve been in court now for 20 years," McMorris Rodgers said. "Some have said that this is a bill that would ensure that salmon go extinct. It’s actually just the opposite: This is a bill that will provide us certainty to move beyond studying and move into implementation."
Newhouse also wanted to underscore that the 2014 plan was the product of "painstaking negotiation" all the way back to the Bush administration. He warned that Bonneville Power Administration had estimated the additional spill could cost utility payers an extra $40 million per year and that the agency was now concerned about the potential for blackouts during the summer.
"I urge my colleagues in the U.S. Senate to come forward and support saving our salmon and saving our dams," Newhouse said.
Environmental groups have criticized the legislation for thwarting the court process and say that salmon and steelhead runs would benefit from breaching the four dams in question in the court ruling.
Save Our Wild Salmon and other environmental groups also recently funded a poll of Washington voters that found that most people were willing to pay between $1 and $7 more per month
on their electric bills to remove four dams on the lower Snake River to help restore wild salmon and improve water quality.