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Groups Ask for Snake River Dams Funding Suspension

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Groups are asking federal agencies to stop investments in the lower Snake River dams, which could be torn down to help salmon populations. (BLM/Flickr)
Groups are asking federal agencies to stop investments in the lower Snake River dams, which could be torn down to help salmon populations. (BLM/Flickr)
January 12, 2017

SEATTLE - Conservation and fishing groups are calling for a halt to spending projects on four lower Snake River dams that they say could be torn down to help salmon in the Northwest.

The groups filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Portland this week to cut off an estimated $110 million in projects for the dams. A second motion, with the support of the Nez Perce Tribe, asks to spill more water over dam spillways to increase survival rates for endangered wild salmon during their spring run.

Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, said taxpayers shouldn't be investing in unnecessary projects.

"Gold-plating dams that may not be in our future because they're outdated - they've outlived their purpose, and they're causing, most of us think, more harm than good - then we need to stop investing in them,” Hamilton said. "It's just a waste of money. We need to save the money for the right things that fish need."

A federal judge ruled in May 2016 that federal agencies must consider breaching the dams to help salmon populations in the Northwest. Backers of the dams have said they play a role in transportation on the river and provide a source of hydroelectric power.

As federal agencies review next steps for the dams, environmental and fishing groups say allowing more water over the dam spillways is critical for salmon in the Columbia River basin. Hamilton said Chinook salmon on the rivers have shown a positive response to higher spill in the past - which is critical now for the sharply declining population.

"That's why we've been strong advocates for spill in the river,” Hamilton said, "because it's one of those things that we know creates a great deal of benefit, and it gives results that we see fairly quickly."

Sport fishing brings in $3 billion a year to the Northwest, with more than a half-million fishers visiting the Columbia River and its tributaries. The four dams in question are Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite.

The federal agencies are taking public comments on the future of the Columbia and Snake River System here, through Feb. 7.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA