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Save Our Wild Salmon


By Jennifer Yachnin
June 26, 2024

A senior Bureau of Reclamation official said the agency will not limit "any potential solutions" as it weighs how to continue to deliver water to farmers and municipalities in the Pacific Northwest in the event four hydropower dams are breached in a bid to restore fish populations in the region.

Roland Springer, a Boise, Idaho-based deputy regional director at Reclamation, made the comments Tuesday during a public webinar on the agency's new "Lower Snake River Water Supply Replacement Study" on current water supply needs and use.

"At this point, we don't want to limit any potential solutions," Springer said. "We recognize there's lots of limitations on water throughout the basin, but we're not constraining what sources would be looked at."

The study is being conducted as a result of the $1 billion settlement agreement the Biden administration struck late last year in a long-running federal lawsuit over hydropower operations on the Snake and Columbia rivers.

Tribal nations with rights to access and use the rivers assert that the dams decimated Pacific Northwest salmon and steelhead populations, along with other species.

The Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative, as the agreement is formally known, includes the Nez Perce, Yakama, Warm Springs and Umatilla tribal nations, as well as the states of Oregon and Washington.

Although only Congress can order the breaching of the dams — something that GOP lawmakers in the region have vigorously opposed, asserting the dams provide necessary hydropower, river transportation for agricultural products and irrigation for farmland — the settlement has prompted a series of studies and reports to consider removing four structures on the Lower Snake River.

That includes the new study set to be produced by Reclamation and the Washington State Department of Ecology, which a draft report set for publication by the end of this year.

The report will examine current water supply drawn from the four dams — Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite — and how it is used by agricultural, municipal and industrial users in the region.

Researchers will also consider how to replace flows drawn from the existing reservoirs, as well as potential replacements, such as groundwater pumping, or new infrastructure to draw from a free-flowing river.

"The water is going to be there even if the dams get breached," said Ron Fehringer with the Jacobs Engineering Group, which Reclamation contracted to conduct the study. "It's not that the water won't still be flowing by [but] it won't be nearly as deep. So then it becomes a matter of infrastructure and potential effects of sediment."

During the 90-minute session, Reclamation officials repeatedly fielded questions about other aspects of a potential dam breach — including how power production would be replaced — by noting that other agencies including the Energy Department and the Army Corps of Engineers would conduct separate studies.

Reclamation will hold a second public comment session on June 27 at 3 p.m. PDT.

E&E News: 'Reclamation weighs how to keep taps open on Lower Snake River' article link

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