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Conservation Groups, Utilities Partner Up on Snake River Dams' Future

Dwindling salmon numbers in the Pacific Northwest have hit Southern Resident orca populations hard. (j.c. winkler/Flickr)
Dwindling salmon numbers in the Pacific Northwest have hit Southern Resident orca populations hard. (j.c. winkler/Flickr)
February 26, 2020

SEATTLE -- Energy companies and conservation groups want to bridge the divide on a contentious issue in the Northwest: the future of four Snake River dams.

This week, utilities and environmental groups came together to write an open letter to the governors of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, calling for a collaborative approach to river management. It urges leaders to keep tribes, dwindling salmon and steelhead numbers in mind, as well as the region's energy needs.

Debra Smith, general manager and chief executive of Seattle City Light, said these diverse groups are more powerful when they're at the same table.

"We are committed to continuing our conversation, to trying to work together and to find solutions that work for the region," she said, "and it doesn't mean that we'll agree on everything, but I think we do agree on the need to keep the conversation going."

The letter comes just before the release of the Columbia River System Operations draft Environmental Impact Statement, expected at the end of the week, in which the impact of the four lower Snake River dams on fish survival is considered.

Gov. Jay Inslee received a letter from state lawmakers last week, thanking him for his leadership on salmon and orca survival, and encouraging him to consider more options, including breaching the dams, to help these species.

Robb Krehbiel, northwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said this letter shows there's an appetite for breaking the cycle of litigation that surrounds dam management in the region. He added that folks are concerned that the salmon that define the Northwest are in peril of disappearing.

"Nobody wants to see that happen, so it's time for us to come up with some big, bold new ways of doing business here in the Northwest," he said, "and people are really opening themselves up to having a conversation about restoring the lower Snake River."

This month, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also sent a letter to Inslee, supporting breaching the dams if it also includes supporting local communities. Conservation groups see this as the best long-term solution not only for endangered fish but the orcas that feed on them.

The letter is online at medium.com, and Brown's letter to Inslee is at amazonaws.com.

Disclosure: Defenders of Wildlife contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA