Last Friday, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee issued the following joint statement on next steps as they pursue a joint federal-state process to establish a comprehensive solution for salmon recovery in the Columbia River Basin.
"Saving our salmon is absolutely essential to Washington state's economy and cultural heritage--it is an urgent undertaking that we are fully committed to. In May, we called for a regional process that ensures all voices in the region are heard and takes all options into consideration, including potential breaching of the Lower Snake River Dams. We also stated that we are ready to do our part to promptly achieve a solution.
"Today we are announcing a joint federal-state process to determine whether there are reasonable means for replacing the benefits provided by the Lower Snake River Dams, sufficient to support breach as part of a salmon recovery strategy for the Snake River and the Pacific Northwest. We approach this question with open minds and without a predetermined decision. Both of us believe that, for the region to move forward, the time has come to identify specific details for how the impacts of breach can, or cannot, be mitigated.
"We recognize the urgency of tackling this longstanding challenge as salmon runs continue to decline. Our recommendations will be completed by no later than July 31, 2022.
"We will not start this process from scratch--we will build on the important data and previously conducted research on these topics to help guide the process. Between now and July, we will also engage in robust outreach to communities across the Pacific Northwest to solicit their views as part of this process. This will include close consultation and advisement by treaty-protected Tribes whose unique perspectives and sovereignty each of us deeply appreciates. We intend to consult with individuals and groups with a wide range of views on the question of dam breaching to ensure the needs of the entire region are addressed.
"As Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee conduct the joint federal-state process in Washington state, in order to keep all options on the table in good faith, Sen. Murray will work in the other Washington to ensure key elements of a salmon recovery strategy are included as part of any Army Corps of Engineers strategy in the FY2022 Water Resources Development Act, including possible expert analysis by federal agencies of breaching as part of a solution.
"Without this critical step, options that may be essential to salmon restoration could be excluded from the most timely and viable federal legislative vehicle.
"Every community in the Pacific Northwest knows the value and importance of our iconic salmon runs--the time is now to take decisive action. We look forward to working with every community from every part of the Pacific Northwest and those on both sides of the aisle to finally establish a regional path forward to save the salmon."
Water Resources Development Act
The Water Resources Development Act is a biennial bill which serves as the primary authorizing legislation for civil works projects and programs carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Sen. Murray will work to secure in the 2022 Water Resources Development Act an authorization of an analysis of the four Lower Snake River dam projects that will evaluate the costs and impacts of breach alongside other options. As Gov. Inslee and Sen. Murray work to provide recommendations for a comprehensive salmon recovery strategy, this legislative action will importantly ensure that breaching remains on the table: historically, work on any Army Corps of Engineers projects, including dams, has been preceded by a study. If Sen. Murray does not pursue action as part of this Water Resources Development Act cycle, the next opportunity to authorize such an analysis would be in 2024. Such an analysis is necessary to pursue an authorization for further action with the dams, potentially including breach, to be included in a future Water Resources Development Act.
The Joint Federal-State Process is the mechanism that Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee will utilize to inform their recommendation on whether the Lower Snake River Dams should be breached or retained. Consultant and expert support will be retained by the governor's office to help synthesize existing information regarding what is known about options to replace the benefits of the dams, if removed, and what remains unknown. This assessment will be reviewed with Tribal governments, river users and communities, and other affected groups representing a range of views regarding the four Lower Snake River Dams. The governor and senator will, as appropriate, conduct Tribal consultation and meet with parties representing a range of views regarding the four Lower Snake River Dams.
Formal mechanisms for the public to submit written comment on the topic will be detailed at a future date. At the conclusion of the Joint Federal-State Process in July 2022, the governor and senator will present their recommendations, and engage with relevant parties on next steps.