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Simpson proposes ambitious northwest salmon plan

Lower Snake River Dams

WASHINGTON  D.C. (KIFI)-Second District Congressman Mike Simpson has released what he calls a “Concept” framework to preserve Idaho salmon runs and address the litigation surrounding four lower Snake River dams. 

“The Northwest has been caught in an unsustainable cycle of conflicts over salmon and energy,” said Simpson. “For over thirty years, lawsuits, appeals, salmon management directives and endless spending have prevailed, while salmon, energy, agriculture and transportation interests continue to suffer.  What I am releasing today is a proposal to break that cycle and deliver certainty and security to the Northwest without picking winners and losers.”

The Simpson concept outlines a $33.5 billion implementation fund with several objectives.   

The first calls for removing four Lower Snake River Dams (LSRD) beginning in 2030.   The dams include Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental, and Ice Harbor Dam.  It also provides up to $400 million to mitigate sediment issues, up to $75 million for Lower Snake River Corridor restoration, and up to $300 million to help the Washington State Department of Transportation study mitigating effects of the drawdown on road and rail infrastructure.

Simpson’s “concept” recognizes that if the dams are removed, their hydro-electric generation must be replaced.  For that, he proposes some options, including up to $4 billion to build new, non-carbon generation including renewable to battery storage, pump storage, hydrogen storage, small modular reactors, increased transmission capacity, demand response, energy efficiency or another other means identified by the Bonneville Power Administration and Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

In exchange, Simpson calls for locking in all other Columbia and Snake River dams and a moratorium on litigation.   And, he said agriculture must be made partners in region wide watershed improvement and protection from lawsuits.  And, he proposed economic development funds for the tri-cities and Lewiston-Clarkston area where the LSRD’s are located.

The “concept” also includes money for irrigators, tourism and recreation, and agriculture.   

You can read Simpson’s plan here.

Several key environmental groups are applauding the effort.

Idaho Rivers United Executive Director Nic Nelson called it the most meaningful step in a decades-long debate. 
“We applaud Congressman Simpson for this ambitious plan that not only stands to bring wild fish back but will rejuvenate our river economies, invigorate the ecosystems, and bolster the agricultural communities of Northern Idaho. The depth of the plan, in all areas, is a testament to the breadth of collaboration and outreach of Simpson’s office with all interested stakeholders and fulfills his commitment to ensuring that everyone benefits,” Neslon said.

Jon Kittell is Salmon and Steelhead Coordinator for the Idaho Outfitter and Guides Association.
"Simpson's action to introduce a revolutionary type of proposal by involving all those affected by this complex issue breaks down historic barriers and finally provides a universal solution that could end the 'Salmon Wars' and aims to leave no Idahoan behind," said Kittell. 

And, the Idaho Conservation League has initially endorsed the plan. 

Justin Hayes, ICL’s executive director, said, “The proposal is bold, comprehensive, and urgently needed for Idahoans and the people of the Northwest. We look forward to working with Rep. Simpson and all stakeholders to find solutions together to address the many elements of the proposal, including river restoration, salmon and steelhead recovery, affordable and clean energy, efficient transportation links and investments in Idaho’s agriculture, outdoor recreation and tourism industries.”

The Idaho Middle Fork Outfitters Association has added its support to the Simpson “concept”.   The MFOA said it has found itself in the middle of “salmon wars” in the form of state or federal restrictions, reduced or no salmon seasons, and early season closures.  “If there’s ever a time to do this, now is the time and the iron is hot,” Helfrich says. “It’s crucial that we do this now, or we will have a salmon-less Salmon River. And to me, that’s unthinkable,” said Helfrich Outfitters owner Ken Helfrich, of Salmon.

One organization has come out against the proposal.  The Idaho Farm Bureau said removing the four dams would make the Columbia-Snake River system unnavigable for barges that move wheat, barley, and other products to Portland for export.

The Idaho River Community Alliance has endorsed the proposal. Lewiston Chapter director Toby Wyatt said, "We are talking about the largest conservation project in history, so a ton of jobs would be created rebuilding the waterfronts, the boat ramps, the rail system, and possibly even upgrading highways for increased semi transportation." 

Simpson has not yet proposed specific legislation, but he says the makeup of the northwest congressional delegation appears to be open to the discussion along with states, tribes, governors, and stakeholders.

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