January 15, 2019

Tri-Cities groups say second state study on Snake River dams is a 'waste'

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In his proposed 2019-21 budget, Gov. Jay Inslee set aside $750,000 to study the impacts to the state and the Columbia Basin region of tearing down the four lower Snake River dams.

The study is part of $1.1 billion the governor included in his budget to save the iconic orcas off the Washington state coast and is based in part on a recommendation from the special Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force that met throughout the interim last year to discuss ways to sustain and grow the orca population.

But, a group of Tri-Cities area local government officials, PUDs and economic development and chamber of commerce leaders say it’s a waste of money. The Tri-City Herald reports today that the group is preparing a letter to governor urging him to nix the state dams study, saying it would be redundant to an environmental study already being conducted under court order by the federal government.

In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, the agency responsible for recovery of the orcas, concluded as recently as 2014 that tearing down the dams is not needed to help either the Snake River salmon or killer whales recover, the group wrote in the letter.

The Columbia-Snake river dam system has been the focus of a lot of discussion in Washington state and Washington, D.C.

Last fall, U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, who represents the south-central region of the state, hosted a special hearing of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Sept. 10 focused specifically on the benefits of the dams to the region -- from supporting exports to generating clean, low-cost energy to the Pacific Northwest.

"It's important that Congress is educated about how vital our federal river power system is to the Pacific Northwest," Newhouse said at the hearing.

The stats tell the story: The Columbia-Snake river dam hydroelectric system delivers clean energy to more than 60 percent of Pacific Northwest residents and accounts for 90 percent of the renewable energy in the region. The barging system moves commodities to and from the mouth of the Columbia River all the way to Lewiston, Idaho -- one barge carries the equivalent of 134 freight truck loads, lowering carbon emissions in the transportation sector.

AWB President Kris Johnson sat alongside other leaders to speak in support of the dams at the hearing: “The Columbia-Snake river dam system transformed Washington state’s economy, opening new opportunities for our agriculture community to access markets around the world, but to also support a sustainable future and strong economy."

The full hearing can be watched here. The hearing was also featured in the most recent edition of Washington Business magazine.