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Lower Snake River Dams Benefit Replacement Study: Gov. Inslee and Sen. Murray initiate study of removal of Snake River dams

Editor's Note: Later this year, following completion of further study of the Lower Snake River Dam system, the governor and U.S. Senator Patty Murray will issue a report on the possibility of dam removal.

OLYMPIA–Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Patty Murray announced in October, 2021, a joint federal-state process to determine whether there are reasonable means for replacing the benefits provided by the lower Snake River dams (LSRD), sufficient to support dam breaching as part of a salmon recovery strategy for the Snake River and the Pacific Northwest. The process will build on previously conducted research and include robust outreach to interested parties across the Pacific Northwest as well as close consultation and advisement by federally recognized and treaty-protected sovereign Tribes.

The Governor's Office hired Kramer Consulting and Ross Strategic (Consultant Team) to support the Inslee/Murray process. The Consultant Team will review existing studies and support engagement with tribal sovereigns, stakeholders, advisors, and experts from across the Region to understand perspectives on the benefits provided by the LSRD, document potential means to replace those benefits, should the dams be breached, and compile associated cost estimates. The Consultant Team also will prepare a draft report for public review and will prepare a final report for consideration by Governor Inslee and Senator Murray. The Consultant Team has been instructed to work closely with a team of advisors from the State of Washington and with the Governor and Senator's offices to ensure work supports the Governor and Senator's decision making.

The Lower Snake River Dams Benefit Replacement Study website and questionnaire is live at Please feel free to provide productive comments on dam breaching.

Inslee and Murra have committed to complete this process and make their recommendations no later than July 31, 2022. A draft report will be released in May 2022, with public a public comment period May–mid-June and the final report released Mid–July 2022.

Categories of Benefits to Examine

Work will be organized around six types of benefits currently provided by the lower Snake River dams: navigation and transportation; agriculture and irrigation; energy; tourism and recreation; community resilience and economic health; and salmon recovery and habitat restoration. The process will also consider costs associated with the design and engineering work required for potential site preparation, dam removal, and post-removal actions.

Freight train running along Columbia River Navigation and Transportation

The LSRD and their associated locks and reservoirs are part of a multi-modal network of rail lines, barge, and trucks. The LSRD and their associated locks allow local agricultural producers and shippers to move agricultural products and other materials up and down the lower Snake River between the Tri-Cities and Lewiston/Clarkston, and support transportation of agricultural products destined for export to ports on the Lower Columbia River. Barging is often the least-cost shipping method for agricultural products and provides competition for other transportation modes, with nearly 10% of all U.S. wheat exports moving by barge on the Snake River. This category will investigate the alternative projects and activities necessary to support the current shipping volume through LSRD, including reliability and timeliness, as well as potential improvements to barging infrastructure in the Tri-Cities, upgraded and new rail systems, and upgrades and maintenance to the road system.

Wheat fields in the Palouse Agriculture and Irrigation

There are approximately five million acres of farmland in the eight counties surrounding the lower Snake River in Southeast Washington, which is approximately 33% of the total farmland in the state of Washington. Agricultural production in the areas surrounding the dams includes both dryland and irrigated farming. Additionally, wheat growers in Northeast Oregon and Southwestern Idaho rely on the barging system to move goods to market, making the Columbia-Snake River System the nation's largest wheat export gateway. This category will investigate the projects and activities necessary to maintain current irrigation levels and production and support non-irrigated agriculture production.

Wind power farm on the Oregon and Washington border Energy

The LSRD are part of the broader integrated system of hydroelectric facilities that make up the Federal Columbia River Power System, the largest source of renewable electricity in the Pacific Northwest. This category will investigate the current power attributes of the LSRD and the projects and activities, including new infrastructure necessary to replace the energy provided by the four dams as well as benefits and needed changes to maintain grid stability, grid services, and energy reliability.

Learning to waterboard on Columbia River Tourism and Recreation

The reservoirs created by the LSRD provide land- and water-based recreational access and opportunities. Land-based recreation includes hiking, camping, and hunting; water-based activities include fishing, swimming, and boating. Various ports along the lower Columbia and lower Snake River also provide cruises for tourists, serving approximately 18,000 passengers per year. This category will investigate the projects and activities necessary to compensate for the loss of current recreation, including recreation-related tourism, as well as opportunities to replace current recreation in a way that provides equal or greater benefit to communities and visitors.

Small town along Columbia River Community Resilience and Economic Health

Many communities have grown up around the LSRD and their benefits. Many people within the region see the dams as symbols of their communities and of regional economic prosperity. This category will investigate the projects and activities necessary to support equal or greater economic opportunities for the communities in Southeast Washington, Lewiston, Idaho and Northeast Oregon, and projects and activities that protect and restore tribal cultural resources and sites. This category will also examine the economic impacts of changes associated with the operation and maintenance of the LSRD, operations and maintenance of industrial and municipal water supplies, tax revenue for local communities, and property values.

Salmon Recovery and Habitat Restoration Chinook salmon swimming

The lower Snake River is home to four Endangered Species Act-listed species of anadromous fish: spring/summer Chinook, fall Chinook, sockeye and steelhead. It is also home to non-listed populations of anadromous coho (which were extirpated and reintroduced), Pacific lamprey, and resident species including white sturgeon and ESA-listed bull trout. Historically, salmon spawning and rearing occurred in both the main river and tributaries. This category will encompass the projects and activities for restoration of the river corridor, including restoration and management of formerly inundated land, if the dams are breached and any additional projects or activities needed to support the current infrastructure for salmon recovery, including hatcheries.

Dam Breaching

The process of removing the LSRD will require significant investment in design and engineering work for site preparation, dam removal, and post-removal actions. This category will investigate the costs associated with breaching the physical dam structures (at a minimum, the earthen berms), sediment dredging and disposition, and the restoration of the natural river channel.

-Office of the Governor

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