By Eric Tegethoff, Producer
May 18, 2023
Funding in Washington state's budget is pushing efforts forward to remove four lower Snake River dams in order to save salmon.
Lawmakers committed more than $7 million to begin the transition planning process for the four dams in southeast Washington. The dams have been a site of contention because of their effects on the dwindling population of salmon.
Tanya Riordan, policy and advocacy director for Save Our Wild Salmon, said past studies and reports have called for dam removal, and the federal government sees the new funding efforts as proof the state is ready to take action.
"Although the decision to remove the dams will be made by the federal government -- they're federal dams -- these measures do ensure that Washington state will be prepared to effectively replace the transportation, energy and irrigation infrastructure," Riordan explained.
Last year, Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., released a report on replacement of the four dams' services, including barging, hydropower and irrigation provided to nearby agriculture. Riordan believes the new funding measure follows through on their promise. Inslee signed the budget this week.
Erin Farris-Olsen, regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, said salmon are resilient and have come back to the Snake River, albeit in smaller numbers. She stressed quick action is necessary to save them.
"We're moving at the pace of our own readiness as humans more so than we're thinking about the ticking of the clock in terms of salmon extinction," Farris-Olsen contended.
Riordan noted more than $26 billion have been spent on mitigation efforts to recover salmon and keep the dams in place, but they have not worked, and she added there are a number of advantages to transitioning away from them.
"We upgrade and modernize our energy system and transportation and irrigation and the state is benefited and communities will be benefited significantly through this process," Riordan asserted. "We'll save salmon, and we will uphold our treaty responsibilities to tribal nations."