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Washington Legislature Take Historic Pivot in the Effort to Restore Salmon and Steelhead

Olympia, WA – Yesterday the Washington State Legislature confirmed that honoring Tribal treaty rights and saving lower Snake River salmon from extinction are important priorities. The final 2023-25 Washington State Transportation and Operating Budgets funded planning to transition the energy, transportation, and irrigation services currently provided by the four aging dams on the lower Snake River. These plans are the concrete next steps to recover salmon, restore the lower Snake River and maintain clean energy and agriculture in the region.

Decades of scientific analysis and studies conclude – including a recent report from NOAA – the lower Snake River must be restored to stop salmon extinction, and save endangered Southern Resident Orcas whose primary food source is Chinook Salmon.

The four lower Snake River dams are federally owned and operated, and the final decision of breaching will be made by the federal government. Urgent action to develop specific plans to restore the lower Snake River in collaboration with Pacific Northwest Policy Makers, the Biden Administration, Tribal Nations, and stakeholders is necessary. Last summer Senator Murray and Governor Inslee stated in their final Lower Snake River Benefits Replacement Recommendations, the services the four dams provide can be replaced, and Washington State should move forward on “concrete next steps”. Governor Inslee and Washington State Legislators followed through on commitments made, and funding was included in the final 2023-25 budget, to begin the necessary planning to transition the services of the lower Snake River dams.

“These plans will enable us to strengthen and diversify our regional economy, and modernize our energy, transportation, and irrigation infrastructure as we work to stop the extinction of Snake River salmon.” – Representative Fitzgibbon, House Majority Leader, 34th legislative district

“The funding provided by the Washington State Legislature is an important step forward to bring people together, to help answer the remaining technical and financial questions, and begin planning to restore the lower Snake River in a manner that invests in NW people, cultures, communities and energy and transportation infrastructure.” – Senator Rolfes, Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, 23rd legislative district

Transportation:
Barge transportation has declined on the Lower Snake River by over 50% in the last few decades. The transportation budget includes $5-million for an analysis of highway, road, and freight rail transportation needs and alternatives to accommodate the remaining freight that still moves by barge through the lower Snake River dams. Although this plan must prioritize and focus on relevant planning measures to determine effective alternatives to barging, and be completed prior to the stated final report deadline, [to stop salmon extinction], it is an important step forward.

“With thorough planning and stakeholder engagement, we can provide effective, efficient rail and road infrastructure to maintain agricultural transportation in Southeast Washington.”
– Senator Shewmake, Vice Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, 42nd legislative district

Energy:
Washington State remains committed to clean, renewable energy. The final 2023-25 Operating Budget provides $2 million in funding, consistent with our state’s clean energy goals, to develop a detailed action plan to transition lower Snake River dam’s energy services in a manner that maintains reliability, adequacy, and diversifies and improves the resilience of the electric power system.

The lower Snake River dams are aging and will require 21 new turbines in the coming decade, costing over $600 million. Mitigation for the decline of salmon has cost over $26 billion dollars and will only increase. These funds create a roadmap to instead put those resources towards replacing and improving our energy system, providing more output in summer and winter, when power is most needed, resulting in better year-round reliability and higher system value to the region.

“Washington state’s commitment to clean, renewable energy paves the way for a brighter, more sustainable future. Should the Federal Government decide to remove the Snake River dams, we need to be ready with a plan to replace affordable, reliable, and clean energy sources as well as the riverine transportation network. This budget will allow us to be ready on day one.”
– Senator Salomon, Vice Chair of the Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee, 32nd legislative district

Irrigation:
Continued irrigation of the 53,000 acres of land that draw water from the lower Snake River is important. These large corporate and family farms produce products such as potatoes, onions, and fruit. The final 2023-25 Operating Budget provides $500,000 in funding for an analysis to plan for irrigation availability during drawdown and after the lower Snake River is restored, maintaining important agricultural production and jobs.

“By taking these important steps towards restoring the lower Snake River and honoring our treaty responsibilities to Tribal Nations, we are not only saving a precious species from extinction, but we are also investing in our communities and creating a sustainable future for generations to come.” – Senator Saldaña, Deputy Majority Leader, 37th legislative district  

Our region has spent tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on mitigation efforts, yet we’ve failed to recover even one of the 13 populations of salmon on the brink of extinction today. We have an urgent and historic opportunity right now to overcome decades of conflict, litigation, and the failed status quo– and instead work together, honor our treaty responsibilities to Tribal Nations, invest in communities and infrastructure, develop new clean energy sources, and ensure salmon abundance for future generations.

“We know we can effectively replace the transportation, energy, and irrigation services of the 4 lower Snake River dams with reliable, affordable, modernized systems – but we must act urgently. Snake River salmon teeter on the brink today. Once they disappear, we cannot replace them or the many benefits they provide to our land, waters, cultures, and wildlife. Salmon, orca and fishing advocates applaud Governor Inslee and the Washington State Legislature for taking the necessary next steps to effectively plan for replacing the services and to stop salmon extinction.” – Joseph Bogaard, Save Our wild Salmon, Executive Director

“Earthjustice has represented fishing and conservation groups in court for years to compel compliance with our environmental laws and restore healthy salmon. That litigation is now paused, because we believe the best way forward is to work with the Biden administration, PNW policy makers, and stakeholders to develop and implement a comprehensive solution that includes restoring the lower Snake River. The funding Gov. Inslee requested and the legislature provided is an important step forward.” – Todd True, Senior Attorney, Earthjustice

“The region, including Washington ratepayers, have spent over $20 billion dollars on actions that have failed to recover Snake and Columbia River salmon. The measures proposed by Governor Inslee and funded by the Washington legislature provide an historic opportunity to move forward with the plans to transition the services from the Lower Snake River dams and restore the river and its once abundant salmon runs.” – Bill Arthur, Chair Sierra Club Snake/Columbia River Salmon Campaign

“On the heels of listing the Snake River as #4 on our Most Endangered Rivers Report, American Rivers commends the State of Washington for following through on the actions identified in the Murray/Inslee Report to move us toward a future without the lower four Snake River dams. The analysis from Washington state will be a giant leap forward in taking the steps necessary to replace the services the dams provide so that they can be removed to help recover Snake Basin Chinook, sockeye, and steelhead in the heart of America’s salmon country. Our hope is that in the not-too-distant future, we will be able to remove the Snake River from our Most Endangered Rivers Report and celebrate a river on the road to recovery.” – Kyle Smith, Snake River Director, American Rivers

“Governor Inslee and the Legislature recognized the urgency for salmon, and responded with a path forward that will modernize the benefits from the river and provide the best hope for salmon dependant communities and orca. This is a legacy pivot from 30 years of failed strategies and a vital step for salmon recovery that will benefit all of us, including our important fishing industry across the Pacific Northwest.” – Liz Hamilton, Executive Director, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Assn. (NSIA)

“Washington Conservation Action is grateful to our communities for advocating successfully for increased salmon recovery funding across all regions of the state. Local experts – from the Snake River in the southeast to Puget Sound basins in the northwest – have long identified what’s needed to ensure future generations have access to salmon,” said Mindy Roberts, Puget Sound and Salmon Program Director, Washington Conservation Action. “Each basin is different though. So while we embrace the opportunity to direct critical funds for locally vetted, on-the-ground actions, we know we need to do even more to save salmon from extinction.”

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