This article was published on: 06/9/22 2:22 PM

The Water Resources Development Act of 2022 approved by the House of Representatives Wednesday includes a lengthy section called “Columbia River Basin Restoration” and would require an inter-agency assessment of the four lower Snake River dams’ impact on fish and wildlife.

The provision from House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) is not included in a Senate bill approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last month. The two bills would have to be reconciled, likely in a conference committee, before gaining full approval and the President’s signature.

“Since built, the four lower Snake River dams have placed Columbia River salmon on the path to extinction, and they must be removed. Chairman DeFazio’s provision in the manager’s amendment marks a step in the right direction,” said Abby Tinsley, associate vice president of policy and government affairs at the National Wildlife Federation. “This provision falls short of what’s ultimately needed, but underscores Congress’ growing recognition that these dams are a primary driver of salmon declines — and the status quo is untenable.”

At the same time, Northwest Republican House members, — Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), and Cliff Bentz (R-OR) – introduced legislation “to protect the Four Lower Snake River Dams.”

“The Federal Columbia River Power System Certainty Act supports the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) and the many benefits it brings to our region by improving and maintaining hydropower assets, ensuring operations throughout the system are conducted in accordance with the latest federal scientific review, and continuing to allow native salmon to recover at record rates,” said the representatives in a press release.

“The science is crystal clear: breaching the Four Lower Snake River Dams would be harmful to our communities, our environment, and our economy,” said Newhouse. “Amidst a national energy and supply chain crisis, it is unconscionable that dam-breaching advocates—including Governor Inslee and Senator Murray—repeatedly attempt to force a predetermined, unscientific conclusion that will put our communities who are already struggling at risk. In the Pacific Northwest, not only do we depend on this critical infrastructure for clean, renewable, and affordable energy, but transportation for 60% of the nation’s wheat. The Snake River Dams are integral to flood control, navigation, irrigation, agriculture, and recreation in Central Washington and our region cannot afford to lose them. This legislation utilizes the best available science to further ensure the Lower Snake River Dams continue to provide carbon-free, baseload energy while continuing to support fish recovery efforts.”

The House version of the water resources bill would establish a Columbia River Basin Trust composed of eight members appointed by the Interior Secretary “which shall represent equally the various interests of the public in the Columbia River Basin, including 14 representatives of:

–agriculture groups;

— environmental or conservation organizations;

–the hydroelectric power industry;

–recreation user groups;

–marine transportation groups; and

–other appropriate interests, as determined by the Secretary.

–4 representatives of each covered State (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana), including at least 1 member of each State government, appointed by the Secretary on the recommendation of the state governors.

–1 representative of each covered Tribe, appointed by the Secretary on the recommendation of the applicable Tribe.

In addition, no later than 60 days after enactment of the bill, says the House version, “the Secretary (Interior) shall establish a task force, to be known as the Columbia River Basin Task Force.”

Membership would be:

–a representative of the Corps of Engineers, who would serve as chairperson;

— a representative of the Department of Agriculture;

— a representative of the Bureau of Reclamation;

— a representative of the Bureau of Indian Affairs;

–a representative of the National Marine Fisheries Service;

— a representative of the Bonneville Power Administration; and

— each member of the Columbia River Basin Trust.

The task force would meet at least four times each year to establish procedures for the preparation and approval of a Columbia River basin “restoration plan.” Any restoration plan must be approved by at least 2/3 of the eight members of the task force.

Not later than 12 months after the date of enactment of the bill, the Interior Secretary “shall transmit to the Task Force a report containing the results of an assessment, carried out at full Federal expense, of water resources needs in the Columbia River Basin, including an assessment of the effects of the Lower Snake River Dams on the federal, state, and regional economies.

Such analysis would include “the effects in the Columbia River Basin of the Lower Snake River Dams” on:


–hydropower generation and associated carbon emissions reductions;

–water supplies;

–flood control;

— marine transportation;

— fish and wildlife, particularly anadromous salmonids and other species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973;

— down-river water quality, including temperature, sedimentation, and dissolved oxygen; and

— Tribal treaty rights and culturally or historically significant Tribal lands;

— non-breaching alternatives for increasing fish passage and salmon recovery; and

— other issues, as requested by the Task Force.

In preparing the report the Interior Secretary “shall consult with the Task Force;  the Governor of each covered State; and the government of each covered Tribe.”

With report in hand, the task force “shall prepare, at full Federal expense, a restoration plan for the Columbia River Basin, based on the results of the assessment contained in the report.”

The task force “shall include” in the restoration plan:

–a description of the overall goals of the restoration plan;

— recommendations for restoration projects in the Columbia River Basin, which may address any of salmon recovery in the Columbia River Basin;

— water quality and water supply

— improvements along the Snake River System;

— low-carbon emission transpor5 tation and shipping routes;

— Tribal treaty rights, and the protection of Tribal historical and cultural resources throughout the Columbia River 9 Basin;

— Federal, State, and regional economies;

— recreation and tourism;

— hydropower generation and associated carbon emissions reductions; and flood control; and

–recommendations for any other appropriate actions that may help achieve the goals of the restoration plan.

The bill says nothing in the Columbia River basin section “authorizes the Secretary to modify, deauthorize, or remove any of the Lower Snake River Dams.”

“The Water Resources Development Act of 2022—the largest and most ambitious WRDA bill to date—demonstrates that when Congress works together, it can pass legislation on a bipartisan basis that benefits communities across the country,” said DeFazio. “WRDA 2022 helps provide much needed investment in ports, harbors, and inland waterways—easing supply chain problems—as well as flood mitigation infrastructure, and ecosystem restoration in both urban and rural communities alike. The bill also directs the Corps to carry out these projects in an economically and environmentally responsible manner, with an added emphasis on coordinating with state, local, and Tribal partners to execute projects equitably. I urge the Senate to act quickly so we can send a final bill to the President’s desk to be signed into law.”

The House bill’s provision comes as parties involved in Columbia River basin salmon recovery have put on hold legal challenges to the federal government’s approach in hopes of reaching a settlement that resolves litigation.

In October, the Department of Interior said the pause in litigation will allow states, tribes and other stakeholders the opportunity to take a fresh look at the “important issues affecting communities, the economies and resources of the Pacific Northwest as well as to identify and review alternative and durable solutions to longstanding challenges in the Columbia River system.”

Among the numerous parties that agreed to the stay are the National Wildlife Federation, the State of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe (Plaintiffs), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (Defendants).

The parties have committed to use the time to work together to develop and implement a comprehensive, long-term solution that could resolve the long-running litigation over dam operations.

The pause to find a path forward for Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead recovery joins other such efforts. The Columbia Basin Collaborative, led by the four Northwest states, has had two organizational meetings, with a third set for June 29.

Also, in October Washington Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee announced a joint state and federal effort to determine the impacts and benefits of breaching the four lower Snake River dams. Their report is due this month.