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Save Our Wild Salmon

Lower Granite dam and Lewiston ID near Chief Timothy Park. Chris Jordan Bloch EarthjusticeSun sets on a dammed section of the Snake River in between Lower Granite dam and Lewiston, ID, near Chief Timothy Park. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

Sat., March 9, 2024
By Emily Washines and Bill Arthur

Salmon are central to the Northwest way of life and even more essential to Northwest Tribes. Recently, we celebrated a landmark agreement that will ensure they remain the beating heart of our Columbia River Basin.

Signed by key federal officials, leaders of the “Six Sovereigns”– four Columbia Basin Tribes and the states of Washington and Oregon – plus representatives from fishing, conservation and renewable energy groups, the Columbia Basin agreement provides a strong foundation to restore and conserve Snake and Columbia River salmon, steelhead and other native fish. The agreement also expands clean energy production, increases resiliency of the river system, and provides stability for communities throughout the Columbia River Basin.

The agreement provides federal commitments including more than $1 billion in federal funding so we can begin to implement key elements of the Tribal- and state-led Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative. The CBRI charts a new course for the Northwest and provides a blueprint for restoring the Columbia and Snake rivers, including increased investments in habitat restoration and clean water.

It is an important first step towards a future where salmon and clean, renewable energy production coexist.

All of this comes at a critical moment in time. The Northwest is undergoing a rapid energy transition to meet our region’s energy needs and climate goals – and address the escalating pressures of climate change. The unprecedented heat dome of 2021 and a deep cold snap this winter show the urgent need to diversify energy resources to improve reliability during the growing winter and late-summer demand peaks. This winter’s diminished snowpack is further stressing the hydrosystem, forcing us to reckon with the risks of overrelying on one energy source. As a result, the Bonneville Power Administration has downgraded its financial picture for 2024.

As we move toward restoring the Columbia River Basin, and mitigating the impacts on salmon as a result of dams on the lower Snake River and Columbia rivers, BPA has a central role to play. To meet its commitments in the signed agreements, BPA must modernize its energy services with renewed focus on energy efficiency, demand response, wind, solar, battery storage and transmission. There is good news on this front. It can be done, and affordably. A preliminary analysis by BPA shows that its $300 million commitment and operational changes under the Columbia River Salmon Agreement will affect electric rates on average over the next 10 years by less than 1%. John Hairston, BPA’s administrator and CEO noted this at a recent congressional hearing.

Part of the solution will come through developing new Northwest Tribal clean energy programs. In supporting Tribal clean energy sovereignty, new federal investment will go toward replacing the power that comes from the lower Snake River dams. Energy experts at the forefront of our shifting energy landscape are clear: With smart planning and investments, the energy provided by the lower Snake River dams can be replaced.

Poignantly, the signing of this agreement comes on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the Boldt decision, which affirmed tribal fishing rights in the Northwest. We still have a lot of work to do to ensure that an equal share of the salmon sacred to Northwest Tribes is also a meaningful and harvestable share. This agreement takes steps to honor our obligations to Tribes. Jeremy Takala, Chair of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee, noted in recent testimony to Congress: “As the U.S. Supreme Court recently affirmed, Treaty fishing rights include the right to actually catch fish, not just to dip our nets in empty waters without salmon.”

Reorienting, strengthening and diversifying the region’s energy grid is well within our reach–and is a must if we want to prevent the collapse of the ecosystems central to the region’s spectacular biodiversity.

It is with a deep gratitude to Northwest Tribes and state leaders in Washington and Oregon that we can celebrate this historic moment. The unity and leadership that guided the signing of the agreement puts the Northwest region on the right course. It will also take the collective efforts of the tribes, states, stakeholders and Northwest congressional delegation to seize the momentum and deliver on the new promises the United States has made.

Bill Arthur, of Shoreline, Washington, is the Sierra Club’s Snake/Columbia River Salmon campaign director. Emily Washines, of Toppenish, Washington, is board president for Columbia Riverkeeper.

The Spokesman-Review: 'Emily Washines and Bill Arthur: A bold blueprint for salmon restoration in the Columbia River Basin puts region on the right course' article link 

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