Simply put – we’ve waited nearly too long already and we already have the answers. Salmon and Orca populations have declined since NOAA’s protection, conservation, and recovery efforts on their behalf began. All snake river wild salmon and steelhead runs were listed under the endangered species act by the late 90s. Southern Resident Orcas officially became endangered in 2005. No population has met survival, let alone recovery standards.
In 2018, Governor Inslee started the Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force to evaluate options to save the Southern Resident Orca. Commentators urged Task Force members to act on the breach alternative, already extensively studied in Alternative 4 of the 2002 Environmental Impact Statement (2002 federal EIS), yet Task Force members failed to take a decisive position on breaching. Washington then undertook a $750,000 Stakeholder Report to further analyze the impacts of breaching, resulting in no consensus or breach recommendation.
On the federal side, the 2021 Columbia River Systems Operation, Environmental Impact Statement (CRSO-EIS), despite acknowledging scientific evidence pointing to dam breaching as the best way to recover endangered salmon and steelhead, again failed to recommend dam breaching. A lawsuit, in which Dam Sense founder, Jim Waddell is an amicus party (see Waddell Files Amicus Brief Asking Court to Order Immediate Dam Breaching) challenges that decision. But that court battle has gone on for 20 years, with no party, except for Mr. Waddell, as amicus, asking the court to order dam breaching.
In October 2021, Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Patty Murray announced a joint federal-state process for a Lower Snake River Dams Benefit Replacement Study 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. They did so with the promise of building off of, rather than duplicating prior work, but the questions to be answered are the same ones that have been asked and answered many times before. NW Energy Coalition’s 2018 Lower Snake River Dams Power Replacement Study is just one example. Dam Sense has also updated the 2002 federal EIS (which contains an in depth analysis of all issues related to breaching) with present day mitigation numbers, and partnered with Earth Economics to produce both a Regional and National Economic Analysis answering many of the same questions posed by Inslee and Murray’s study process.
In sum, governments and NGOs have already spent millions of dollars studying what it means to breach the dams and how to do it. Dollars that are better spent on revitalizing the Snake River ecosystem and improving eastern Washington economies post-breach. There’s simply no reason to wait. In fact, if we want Salmon and Orca to have a future, and to be in ours, waiting is not an option.