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Recommendation: 9

Status: Complete

Establish a stakeholder process to discuss potential breaching or removal of the lower Snake River Dams for the benefit of Southern Resident orcas.


Action 1

In conjunction with Idaho and Oregon, Washington State should quickly hire a neutral third party to create a process for local, state, tribal, and federal leaders to address issues associated with the possible breaching or removal of the four lower Snake River dams

Implementation Details

The Governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force requests the creation of an open collaborative process to address questions related to the potential breaching or removal of the lower Snake River dams and associated economic and social impacts and mitigation costs. These should include the potential economic impacts or benefits to coastal fishing communities, both tribal and non-tribal.

This local collaborative effort should work in conjunction with the states of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon to support a technically sound process. The work should not interfere with the current Columbia River Systems Operation National Environmental Policy Act process. Washington State will continue its current active support as a cooperating agency in the National Environmental Policy Act process.

The State shall develop a scope of work in conjunction with the National Research Council by March 2019. This process will include engagement from local, state, tribal, and federal governments, along with interested stakeholders, to begin developing a regional understanding and potential recommendations for the lower Snake River dams. The process should include consideration of services provided by the dams, potential biological benefits and impacts to Chinook and Southern Resident orcas, as well as other costs and uncertainties related to the question of breaching or retaining the lower Snake River dams. The task force should be updated on progress by the summer of 2019.

Recent Progress

  • The Office of Financial Management oversaw a $750,000 contract to engage stakeholders to determine the economic, social, and environmental impacts of breaching or removing the lower Snake River dams. A final report was released in March 2020.
  • In July 2020, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Columbia and Snake River dams. This document does not recommend removal of the dams. The final impact statement and an associated biological opinion immediately were challenged by environmental, fishing, tribal, and Oregon plaintiffs, and the litigation parties are discussing the possibility of a settlement that may revisit and revise the conclusions of the Corps’ Environmental Impact Statement.
  • Meanwhile, Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Patty Murray released a statement in October 2021 on establishing a joint federal-state process on Snake River salmon recovery to determine whether reasonable means exist to replace the benefits provided by the dams. Senator Murray will work to ensure key elements of a salmon recovery strategy are included in any U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ strategy in the Fiscal Year 2022 Water Resources Development Act, including possible additional engineering and analysis of breaching the dams as part of a comprehensive solution for Columbia and Snake River salmon.

More details may be found in the progress reports in the resources library.