Idaho representative turns heads with proposal to breach Snake River dams

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho GOP Representative Mike Simpson is drawing attention—both critical and supportive—of his recent proposal to breach several dams along the lower Snake River to protect fish life and clean energy.

Simpson’s proposal aims to fight the dwindling salmon and steelhead populations that conservationists warn are on the threat of extinction, while agencies and companies appear to waste time trading punches through litigation.

The project includes $16 billion in clean energy development, $4.6 billion in watershed partnerships and water quality projects, $2.3 billion to restore the lower Snake River in Washington, $3.5 billion to rebuild rail and road infrastructure and $1.85 in transitional funding for industries that rely on the rivers and more.

Money for this would come from the multi-trillion dollar stimulus package expected from the Biden Administration—totaling to around $30 billion.

Perhaps the most shocking element to the proposal is the possibility of breaching or tearing down several damns on the river.

The Idaho Conservation League supported the proposal, calling it “bold, comprehensive, and urgently needed for Idahoans and the people of the Northwest.”

“We’re hopeful that this proposal brings people together to work to benefit communities in Idaho and the Northwest, providing jobs and needed investment that will lead to cleaner water, clean energy, abundant salmon and steelhead, prosperous farming, river, and waterfront communities and affordable energy for consumers,” said ICL executive director Justin Hayes.

Not everyone is on board, however.

Washington representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dan Newhouse, Jaime Herrera Beutler and Russ Fulcher drafted a resolution further supporting hydropower and hydroelectric dams in the wake of this proposal.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers also issued the following statement:

“Proposals that include breaching the Lower Snake River Dams in the name of protecting salmon populations are flawed and fail to account for the sweeping impacts that would be felt across the region. With greater than 95 percent passage, these dams are not the greatest threat to fish survival. Our oceans are, coupled with predation and habitat loss. We need to focus on solutions that will get results, like cleaning up Puget Sound and restoring salmon runs there. These dams are the beating heart of Eastern Washington and provide the entire Pacific Northwest with clean, renewable, reliable, and affordable energy. Spending more than $33 billion to breach them – with no guarantee that doing so will restore salmon populations – is a drastic, fiscally irresponsible leap to take. I look forward to continued conversations with my colleagues on the importance of the Lower Snake River Dams and solutions that will benefit all users of the Columbia River System.”

The Washington Grain Commission echoed these concerns, also arguing that breaching the dams would severely interrupt industry in the region — such as shipping wheat from farms downriver to the greater Northwest.

“If the Representative is so interested in dams and getting fish back to Idaho, I’d suggest he look at those within his state that were built without fish passage, cutting fish off from pristine habitat,” said Grain Commission CEO, Glen Squires. “While a portion of the $32 billion may attempt to address a slice of the economic pain that would result from breaching the four dams, it cannot begin to address the economies of businesses and communities dependent upon the Columbia-Snake River System.”