COLUMN: Dams and Salmon Can and Do Coexist

October 7, 2019
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

There has been a lot of buzz around the Snake River dams. In the decades-old argument, anti-dam advocates consistently point out that if the people of the Northwest love salmon, the dams have got to go. The communities I represent have grave concerns over the removal of the Snake River dams, which provide reliable and affordable energy that is vital to our region. These communities are also concerned about salmon survival, which is why I am proud to support our dams while also supporting research to improve fish passage.

In light of what seems like constant attacks on our way of life in Central and Eastern Washington, we come together in support of the dams and the many benefits they provide: clean and renewable energy, transportation for our goods to port, irrigation and flood control for our communities and agricultural economy, and robust recreational opportunities. We also recognize that in order to have a fully resilient energy infrastructure, we must continue to improve conditions for endangered salmon through the dam system and build upon the 95% fish passage rate.

While our governor, many in the state legislature, and some privately-funded entities on the westside of the state continue to debate the costs and benefits of the Snake River dams, calling for the removal of the dams in order to protect Washington’s native salmon species and the orca populations off the coast is a misguided approach. While the dams’ benefits and impacts on local communities and our state are enormous, it is important to remember the Snake River dams are federally-owned and operated. The State has no jurisdiction over this infrastructure.

The federal government is committed to protecting our environment, and as I have pointed out in response to the numerous attacks on our dam system, they are currently conducting a comprehensive environmental analysis of the river power system. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I have consistently supported funding for endangered salmon research and other opportunities to improve our hydropower systems.

Meanwhile, federal agencies and partners are investing in the dam system to demonstrate that dams and salmon can – and do – coexist.  

Last week, I joined U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Walla Walla District Commander Lt. Col. Dietz at the Ice Harbor Dam in Burbank. Ice Harbor is the site of a new, high-tech test turbine, which was designed by the Corps to increase the efficiency of power production and improve safety for fish passing through the dam. This turbine – the first of its kind – is supported by more than 20 years of research, combining the expertise of the Corps, Bonneville Power Administration, and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

While on this visit, scientists from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) deployed their groundbreaking Sensor Fish technology. Dr. Daniel Deng explained how Sensor Fish devices mimic a fish’s pathway and movements through the dam system, so scientists and researchers at PNNL can better understand how to improve their passage. PNNL, which is located right here in the heart of the Columbia Basin, is avidly studying ways to increase salmon runs while maintaining the clean, reliable energy benefits provided by the dams.

In Central Washington, we understand the vitality of our dams, and we are lucky to have the support of federal entities and partners who are working to improve them. As communities around the world continue to call for clean energy solutions, I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to support research and innovation for our renewable energy infrastructure, to improve conditions for our iconic salmon species, and to save our dams.