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On Tuesday, Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Idaho senator Jim Risch sent a series of letters to ten federal agencies involved in looking at plans to breach the Lower Snake River dams. The agencies, which include NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, USDA, Department of Transportation and others, are participating the White House Council on Environmental Quality ’s exploration of how to have those dams removed. Risch and McMorris Rodgers said the series of letters press CEQ for answers on their current stakeholder engagement sessions and ask federal agencies that have a stake in Lower Snake River dam operations about their role in CEQ’s process.

The letters also call into question CEQ’s focus on the four species of fish that pass through the Lower Snake River Dams over the 13 species that are threatened or endangered across the Columbia River Basin.

“As you know, the Federal Columbia River Power System comprises 31 hydroelectric projects in the Columbia River Basin and provides approximately one third of the electricity used in the Pacific Northwest, as well as critical flood risk management, irrigation, and navigation benefits," the letters stated. “The Lower Snake River Dams provide [Bonneville Power Administration] with capacity to meet peak energy demand loads. The four dams generate approximately 1,000 megawatts of power on average annually, with the capacity for generating over 3,000 megawatts of power. 

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They further emphasize the lengthy and cooperative process undergone during the Columbia River System Operations National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Process and Biological Opinion.

“The Lower Snake River Dams are not only critical to grid reliability in the Pacific Northwest, through fish passage adaptations, they achieve 96% passage survival for juvenile yearling Chinook salmon and steelhead smolts at each dam. 

Rodgers and Risch were joined in sending the letters by Senators Steve Daines of Montana and Mike Crapo of Idaho, as well as Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler, Dan Newhouse, both of Washington, Idaho's Russ Fulcher and Cliff Bentz of Oregon.

“We share the goal of recovering threatened and endangered fish species in the Columbia River Basin, and we should be encouraged by recent returns on the Lower Snake River," the letters continued. "Snake River Spring Chinook returns have increased since 2019, with 2020 returns up 55% and 2021 returns up 27%."

You can read the letters and view the questions to each agency at the following links:

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