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Inslee and Murray File Report in Favor of Breaching Dams

(The Center Square) – It’s official: Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee is in favor of breaching four dams on the lower Snake River as the best way to save endangered salmon runs and maintain treaty obligations with Native American tribes.

That’s according to a final report issued Thursday by Inslee and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, that says the benefits provided by the four giant hydroelectric dams must be replaced before the dams can be breached.

“The state and federal governments should implement a plan to replace the benefits of the Lower Snake River Dams to enable breaching to move forward,” Inslee said in a same-day press release.

Inslee had previously been coy about his support for breaching the dams.

“The governor has been consistently clear that he has not made any decision on the question about the dams,” Jaimie Smith, Inslee’s executive director of communications, had told The Center Square regarding a June 9 draft report that concluded finding other ways to provide electricity, irrigation, and enabling commerce would cost between $10.3 billion and $27.2 billion.

The Center Square asked Mike Faulk, Inslee’s deputy communications director, what prompted the governor’s now-definitive answer on breaching the Snake River dams.

“The whole point of this effort was to make findings and then recommendations based on those findings,” Faulk explained in an email.

“After reviewing the findings, the governor believes the state and federal governments must implement replacements for the benefits of the dams to enable breaching,” he added. “We should pursue those replacements and ultimately breach once it’s feasible.”

The final report says breaching the dams is not a matter of salmon versus electricity.

“We can no longer afford to be pitted against one another because of an intractable and unproductive choice between species and dams,” the report stated. “The consequences of doing so are simply too severe. We can, and must, adapt in ways that strengthen our energy system, forestall the extinction of iconic species, and protect the rights of treaty Tribes while providing economic opportunity for the entire region.”

Dam breach proponents, including affected Native American tribes, contend that removing the dams would bring back or improve salmon runs, which would help orcas that depend on salmon as a food source.

“A great deal of work remains to resolve the technical and financial questions that remain, and it is time to transition from endless debate and litigation to taking concrete steps now that ensure every option is available to policymakers,” the report noted.

Those concrete steps will need to be applied to several issues.

Getting rid of the dams would negatively impact the provision of irrigation water for farmers, critics say, in addition to making the river system unnavigable for barges that move crops and other products to port for export.

Perhaps the most contentious issue raised by critics of breaching the dams is the negative impact it will have on the generation of electricity. Power grid workers have consistently said the back-up electricity provided by the Snake River dams is essential to preventing power shortages when energy demand is high.

Congress will ultimately decide if the federally-owned dams will be removed, and would have to appropriate money for the work to do so.

That, combined with any breaching of the Snake River dams being contingent upon replacement and mitigation efforts beforehand, means no major immediate action to get rid of the dams.

The final report itself notes that a “breach is not a feasible option in the near-term.”

In the meantime, per the report, Inslee and Murray have committed to substantially expanding salmon habitat and passage through the Columbia River Basin and the Puget Sound, improving the siting process necessary to build necessary clean energy sources, and leveraging the investments made in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act in support of energy replacement, enhancement of infrastructure, and salmon recovery and habitat restoration.