The Snake River basin in Idaho and eastern Oregon holds approximately 70% of wild salmon and steelhead recovery potential in the entire Columbia Basin due to prodigious amounts of high habitat quality,. But fish survival as they migrate past the dams and reservoirs on the lower Snake and lower Columbia rivers must improve dramatically for recovery to happen.
Removing the lower Snake dams is the only action identified to date with the potential to yield the survival improvements necessary to recover wild Snake River salmon and steelhead. The existing problems with the lower Snake dams are only going to get worse as the climate warms. Accordingly, removal of these dams should be analyzed as an alternative in the Columbia River Systems Operation EIS.
Any serious analysis of lower Snake River dam removal should include related actions that will replace or mitigate the benefits provided by the dams, such as improvements in rail transportation, new irrigation systems for irrigators who withdraw water from the lower Snake, and investments in renewable energy, conservation and electric grid improvements.
The potential economic benefits of restoring a free-flowing lower Snake River should also be analyzed, such as elimination of flow augmentation from the upper Snake River, reduced dredging costs, restored fisheries, and new recreational opportunities.
After losing yet another lawsuit in Federal District Court for failure to protect salmon and steelhead under the Endangered Species Act,the Federal government agencies will go back to improve their salmon conservation plans. One important step will be a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) produced by the US Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration and the Bureau of Reclamation. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process launched in the fall of 2016.
This NEPA process provides an opportunity to take a fresh look at salmon and steelhead management in the Columbia Basin. It creates a set of actions that have potential to both provide healthy, fishable populations of wild salmon and steelhead and improve local economies. TU stands ready to work with all stakeholders to identify those actions.
Trout Unlimited believes this is an opportunity for all interests in the basin to shape our future. This is far better than having our future decided by the courts because we could not muster the will to act.
The analysis in the EIS must be objective, transparent and based on the best available science and economic information.
The alternatives analyzed in the EIS must be done using a process that instills public confidence in the outcome. There should be opportunity for public engagement in the analysis itself, not just the opportunity to comment on a draft EIS.