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Save Our Wild Salmon

The Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative is a major step toward a future where Idaho salmon and affordable energy coexist, writes guest columnist Tom Stuart

By Tom Stuart
June 4, 2024


Salmon are central to the Idaho way of life, and even more essential to Idaho’s Native Americans. Recently, a landmark agreement was reached that focuses on restoring abundant salmon in the heart of Idaho – places like the Salmon River.

Leaders of “Six Sovereigns” (the four Columbia Basin Tribes, the states of Washington and Oregon – plus representatives of fishing, conservation, and energy groups), recently signed the ‘Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative’ (CBRI), an agreement with the U.S. government that provides a foundation to restore Snake and Columbia River salmon. The agreement also modernizes energy production, increases the resiliency of the river system, accommodates farmers, and provides stability for communities throughout Idaho and the Columbia Basin.

The agreement establishes federal commitments, including more than $1 billion in funding to implement key elements of the CBRI, with investments in habitat restoration and clean water. It is a path to salmon recovery, and a major step toward a future where Idaho salmon and affordable energy coexist.

All of this comes at a critical moment. The Northwest is undergoing a rapid transition to meet its energy needs and climate goals – and to address the escalating pressures of a warming climate. Hotter summers and colder winters, when hydro generation always drops, confirms that we must diversify our energy sources. Last winter’s reduced snowpack will further stress the hydrosystem, forcing us to deal with the risks of over-relying on dams for energy. As a result, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has downgraded its financial outlook for 2024.

As we modernize infrastructure in the Snake/Columbia Basin and mitigate the impacts on salmon caused by lower Snake and Columbia River dams, BPA has a vital 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 – and reduce their reliance on dams.

There is good news on this front; it is affordable. A preliminary analysis by BPA shows that its $300 million commitment and operational changes under the Columbia River Salmon Agreement will affect electric rates less than 1% on average over the next 10 years. John Hairston, BPA’s administrator, said so in a recent congressional hearing.

Part of the solution will come through developing new Tribal clean energy programs, which will go toward replacing the power that comes from the four lower Snake dams. Energy experts lay it out clearly: With smart planning and investments, the energy provided by the lower Snake River dams can be replaced.

The CBRI agreement also moves to honor our treaty obligations to Tribes, acknowledging that fishing rights are meaningless if there are no salmon to catch. We still have a lot of work to do to ensure that treaty obligations are actually honored — that the salmon promised to Shoshone-Bannock and Nez Perce people is a meaningful and harvestable share.

Modernizing, strengthening, and diversifying the region’s energy grid is well within our reach – and it is essential if we want a future that includes both salmon and energy, along with the ecosystems that make Idaho special.

Idahoans in all walks of life can celebrate this historic agreement. The unity and leadership that guided the agreement puts Idaho and the Northwest on the right course. Regrettably, this deal occurred without Idaho’s leadership. But it will take the collective work of all Northwest states, tribes, stakeholders, and congressional delegations to seize the momentum and deliver on the promises the United States has made – to build a better future for Idaho and the Northwest.

Tom Stuart, of Boise and Stanley, is a board member of Idaho Rivers United.

Idaho Capital Sun: 'A bold blueprint for salmon restoration puts Idaho on the right course' full link 

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