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Energy, Environmental Groups: Collaboration Possible on Snake River Dams

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The low numbers of salmon returning to Northwest rivers are raising concerns about a future without these fish. (Bureau of Land Management/Flickr)
The low numbers of salmon returning to Northwest rivers are raising concerns about a future without these fish. (Bureau of Land Management/Flickr)
February 26, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. -- 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.

Frank Lawson, chief executive and general manager of the Eugene Water and Electric Board, said the letter is proof that groups are ready to work together.

"You find a lot of different types of stakeholders and a lot of different interests," he said, "but we all agree that we have to work together toward some kind of solution, and not run off into isolation and only look out for our own interests."

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.

This month, Gov. Kate Brown also sent a letter to Washington Gov. Jay 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.

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."

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 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 - OR