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Energy, Conservation Groups Unite on Divisive Snake River Dams Issue

Salmon and steelhead return numbers on the Snake River have plummeted in recent decades. (Matthew Dillon/Flickr)
Salmon and steelhead return numbers on the Snake River have plummeted in recent decades. (Matthew Dillon/Flickr)
February 26, 2020

BOISE, Idaho -- 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.

Bear Prairie, general manager of Idaho Falls Power, said it's important that his grandchildren can catch wild salmon and steelhead in the future.

"They've definitely challenged me to continue to be engaged, understand the science, and make sure that we're balancing our energy needs and needs for [an] affordable, reliable power system," he said.

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.

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."

Conservation groups also are concerned about the threat that low salmon numbers pose to the endangered orca population, which is nearly at its historic low. Other letter-signers include utilities and power companies throughout the Northwest, the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition and Sierra Club, and the Port of Lewiston, Idaho.

The letter is online at

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Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID