Water flows through a fish ladder at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River in 2014. (Dean Hare/The Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP, File)

Water flows through a fish ladder at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River in 2014. (Dean Hare/The Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP, File)

Governor opposes House bill on Snake River dams

By Nicholas K. Geranios

The Associated Press

SPOKANE — Gov. Jay Inslee is opposed to a bill introduced by Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers that would reduce spill over Columbia and Snake river dams, and prevent the breaching of four Snake River dams in eastern Washington state.

In a letter to leaders of the House Natural Resources Committee and the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans, the Democratic governor this week said the bill would harm “ongoing efforts to improve future salmon and dam management.”

“I am committed to preserving the benefits of our hydropower dams in a manner that is in balance with protecting and restoring salmon,” said Inslee, who urged lawmakers to oppose the bill.

McMorris Rodgers said Wednesday that Inslee was putting politics over science.

“After 20 years of litigation we must get out of the courtroom and continue investments into habitat restoration and fish recovery,” said McMorris Rodgers, who represents the eastern third of the state in Congress. “That’s what my bipartisan bill ensures.”

This is the latest battle in a long-running conflict between opponents and supporters of the four hydroelectric dams on the Snake River which are blamed for reducing the production of wild salmon and steelhead on the Columbia and Snake river system.

Introduced last summer, the bill would keep in place the Federal Columbia River Biological Opinion until 2022. That’s a plan created by a coalition of federal agencies, states and tribes to protect migrating salmon while continuing to operate the dams.

A federal judge has ruled that the biological opinion doesn’t do enough to rebuild endangered salmon and steelhead populations.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon of Portland, Ore., has ordered a new environmental review, which is required to include a look at breaching the four Snake River dams.

The bill also would effectively overturn an April decision by Simon requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to spill more water for fish at eight Columbia and Snake river dams starting next year.

Environmentalists say the increased spill over the dams would deliver out-migrating juvenile salmon more quickly to the ocean, reducing mortality.

Opponents say it would reduce hydropower production.

The dams have fish ladders, but many salmon still die during migration in and out of the river system.

Robb Krehbiel, Northwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said the bill seeks to lock in conditions that have failed to restore salmon runs.

“Dam operations and salmon management in the Columbia Basin are in desperate need of updates,” Krehbiel said.

Northwest RiverPartners, which includes farmers, utilities, ports and businesses, has contended the bigger spill would increase electric bills in the Northwest, while doing little to help fish and possibly even harming them.

Too much spill creates high gas levels in the water that can harm juvenile fish, they said.

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