Idaho Congressman Looks To Spend $33 Billion To Remove Dams To Save Salmon Population
UNITED STATES - JULY 22: Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, speaks during a news conference on the Great American Outdoors Act in the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, July 22, 2020.
Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Hoping to address “the decades-long problem of how to save salmon populations without upending a system that provides power to millions of people,” Republican Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson has “proposed removing four hydroelectric dams in the Pacific Northwest.”

Rep. Simpson, a U.S. Representative for Idaho’s 2nd congressional district since 1999, unveiled the proposal to breach four dams on the Lower Snake River by the end of next decade. The proposal is estimated to cost $33.5 billion, while relying on approximately $33 billion in a “jobs-and-infrastructure stimulus package expected from the Biden administration this year.”

By breaching the dams, the goal is to free up “the waterway for long-ranging salmon that are also a key food source for orcas,” with the plan “finding ways to replace the dams’ key roles in energy, agriculture and transportation.”

Known as “The Northwest in Transition,” the plan’s most immediate actions includes removing the Lower Granite Dam, the Little Goose Dam, the Lower Monumental Dam, and the Ice Harbor Dam.

“Removing the dams could create economic and logistical problems for farmers and ranchers along the Lower Snake River who rely on the dams for transportation of crops, irrigation and electricity,” reported Chase Biefeldt for The Associated Press (KTVB).

“On the other hand, there are many conservation organizations in full support of Simpson’s proposal, like Idaho Rivers United.”

According to Simpson, if the dams are not removed, the Idaho salmon population would be condemned to extinction. $16 billion of the proposed funding would be allocated to “replace the dams with other clean energy sources that are friendlier to migrating salmon,” with possible alternatives including “renewable to battery energy, pump storage, and hydrogen storage.”

“Congressman Simpson’s proposal to end salmon litigation by breaching the four Lower Snake River Dams does little to restore abundant fish runs,” said David Doeringsfeld, general manager at the Port of Lewiston, the furthest inland seaport on the West Coast.

“His proposal throws billions of tax-payer dollars at unproven ideas and provides no explanation on how his ideas would be implemented… The Port is in discussion with the Congressman on his proposal.”

In addition to saving the salmon population — with the number of Idaho’s salmon runs having decreased from the millions to just a few thousand — Rep. Simpson has said “he’s hoping the plan starts a conversation that also includes tourism and a major role for Native American tribes.”

On Friday, all four Democratic senators from Washington and Oregon issued a joint release, stating:All communities in the Columbia River Basin and beyond should be heard in efforts to recover the Northwest’s iconic salmon runs while ensuring economic vitality of the region. Any process needs to balance the needs of communities in the Columbia River Basin, be transparent, be driven by stakeholders and follow the science.”

Conversely, Washington Rep. Cathay McMorris Rodgers (R) opposed the plan, saying “These dams are the beating heart of Eastern Washington. Spending $33 billion to breach them — with no guarantee that doing so will restore salmon populations — is a drastic, fiscally irresponsible leap to take.”

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