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Washington State News

Breaching Snake River Dams to Improve Salmon Run Could Cost $27B

(The Center Square) – Breaching four dams on the lower Snake River could increase Washington’s dwindling salmon population but cost between $10.3 and $27B according to a draft report commissioned by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Bothell, and Gov. Jay Inslee.

The report, produced by an independent consultant, incorporates data from various stakeholders, indigenous tribes, and experts from across the Pacific Northwest. It provides data on the feasibility of breaching the dams as a way to boost the salmon population.

The dams, completed in 1975, produce over 3,000 megawatts of electricity at peak capacity but have altered the flow of the river making it more difficult for salmon to spawn, the report said.

The salmon population has declined by 90% from pre-dam levels. However, the salmon population of the Columbia River has remained consistent since the mid-1990s.

Breaching the dams would bring a number of benefits, according to the report, including draining the reservoirs on the river, making it easier for salmon and other fish to migrate. The move would also benefit tribal people by improving their salmon harvest and restoring about 34,000 acres of tribal land obliterated by the dams.

Restoring salmon fisheries in the Columbia Basin would also generate up to 25,000 new jobs and add $1 billion a year to the economy, the report said.

The costs would be high, however, and not everyone agrees that breaching the dams is necessary to increase the salmon population.

Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment at Washington Policy, has pointed out that the Snake River Spring/Summer Chinook salmon run has increased for three consecutive years, adding that salmon populations experience cyclical highs and lows.

“Impervious to the evidence, environmental groups continue to claim Chinook populations are headed to extinction even as returns are booming,” Myers wrote.

Breaching the dams would also bring a host of challenges, according to the Murray-Inslee report, causing disruptions in navigation of the river by grain barges, irrigation drawn from the reservoirs for agriculture, energy generation, and recreational use of the reservoirs and waterway.

The project would also require authorization by the U.S. Congress and a significant investment in infrastructure.

Murray and Inslee released the report to gain public comment on the question of breaching the dams. Comments may be made through July 11 at 5 p.m., PST, via the project website or by emailing info@lsrdoptions.org.

“We continue to approach the question of breaching with open minds and without a predetermined decision,” Murray and Inslee said in a statement. “In the coming weeks, we will carefully review and consider public input, tribal consultation, and other engagement from stakeholders before making any recommendations.”