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COLUMN: Listen to Local Voices on Preserving Dams

December 18, 2017
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

Even well-intentioned crusades in the name of the environment can cause real economic consequences for communities on our side of the “Cascade divide.” I was disappointed that Governor Jay Inslee recently chose to side with west-side interest groups that are seeking to increase spill or even breach the federal dams on the lower Snake River. Our Mid-Columbia communities would pay the price. The stakes for our region are too high for preserving the dams on the Columbia and the Snake rivers to be approached in a partisan way.

In response to a federal judge’s misguided order in 2016 that threatens our dams, I joined my congressional colleagues in the Pacific Northwest earlier this year to introduce bipartisan legislation, H.R. 3144. Our bill would preserve the 2014 Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion (BiOp), negotiated under the Obama administration, until 2022, which would prevent the breaching of our dams.

Don’t just take my word for it: Stakeholders and residents in central Washington are raising their voice after the Governor announced his opposition to our legislation:

“Eastern WA irrigation farmers are discouraged by the direction that the Governor is taking with the dam issue. Our congressional representatives see the need for the dams to stay in place, and their position is not political; it is based on actual facts in regards to hydropower, flood control, and irrigation—which are reflected in the current BiOp. My fourth, fifth, and sixth-generation family farm will not survive another generation without these dams. If the farms fail, so will our communities. I encourage the Governor to help us do what is best for our state and allow the dams to continue to do the job they were originally intended to do and support what is right for Washington state.” – Michele Kiesz, Farmer, Ritzville

“I am disappointed in the position taken by the Governor. It is obvious to me that he is being influenced by west side special interests. It’s too bad he has failed to grasp the importance of hydropower in the Pacific Northwest, nor has he acquired an understanding of the intricacies of fish passage through the Columbia-Snake River system. If he did have an understanding of fish passage at the hydroelectric projects, he wouldn’t be quoting special interest groups in his comments which reek of political bias.” – Jack W. Heffling, President, United Power Trades Organization, Richland

"We strongly disagree with the Governor's perspective on this bill and intend to discuss with the Governor's staff the importance of the legislation to the region. This legislation provides relief to the endless litigation of federal hydro system operations by directing the federal agencies to implement the current BiOp as adopted in 2014. The current BiOp is based on the best available science, has been vetted by stakeholders and was formally approved by the Obama administration. Implementation of the BiOp has successfully increased salmon runs due to operational requirements within, and the installation of new fish passage technologies.” – Ron Skagen, President of Washington Public Utility District Association, East Wenatchee

I represent residents in the Fourth Congressional District who will face the consequences of increasing spill or breaching dams in the real terms of higher electricity rates, flood control, and reduced access to water for irrigating crops that underpin local agricultural economies. Our region’s dams are major sources of clean, renewable power; reducing their capacity would be counterproductive. It is time for the west side to listen to our voices and protect our dams.