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Bill in Congress Would Lock Snake River Dams in Place

Salmon runs on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River have fallen drastically since the lower Snake River dams were built, according to the National Wildlife Federation. (Rex Parker/Wikimedia Commons)
Salmon runs on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River have fallen drastically since the lower Snake River dams were built, according to the National Wildlife Federation. (Rex Parker/Wikimedia Commons)
April 24, 2018

BOISE, Idaho – The U.S. House is set to vote on Wednesday on a bill that would add federal protections to four lower Snake River dams. Conservation groups are concerned it would spell doom for salmon and steelhead in the Northwest, which already have seen sharply reduced runs because of the dams.

House Resolution 3144, co-sponsored by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, would require congressional approval for any dam modifications or actions, such as additional spill for salmon, over the next four years.

Supporters of the bill say it is needed to protect hydropower in the Northwest. But Tom France, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation's regional office, says other energy sources are available.

"It's clear that we could take out the four Snake River dams that are most damaging to salmon and steelhead runs and still have plenty of low-cost energy for the Pacific Northwest," he notes.

Congressman Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., says a federal judge's decision to allow more spill over the dams to help migrating salmon will collectively cost Northwest ratepayers $40 million.

However, a recent study from the Northwest Energy Coalition found the dams could be replaced with renewable energy sources for a little more than a dollar a month.

HR 3144 passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee last week.

France says the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho provides a good example of what happened to salmon runs after the dams went up. He says that part of the river hasn't been altered and doesn't have any fish hatcheries.

"When the last of the Snake River dams went into operation, there were 25,000 spawning fish coming back to the Middle Fork," he says. "Today, there are less than 500. So in the best habitat, in the wildest habitat, it's pretty apparent the damage that the dams have done to wild fish runs."

Salmon also are a major food source for Northwest orcas, and the dwindling fish runs have put the whales in peril in the Pacific ocean.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID