Think Out Loud

Yakama Nation leaders praise official report on breaching lower Snake River dams

By Allison Frost (OPB)
Aug. 29, 2022 10:51 p.m. Updated: Sept. 6, 2022 8:49 p.m.

Broadcast: Tuesday, Aug. 30

The Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River is one of four in southeastern Washington that have been at the center of debate for decades.

The Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River is one of four in southeastern Washington that have been at the center of debate for decades.

Bonneville Power Administration

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray recently released a long-anticipated report on breaching the dams along the lower Snake River. Echoing an earlier draft, they said that taking out the dams is ultimately the best chance for threatened and endangered salmon. But they also detailed the enormous impacts dam removal would have on clean energy, transportation and the broader economy. They said now was not the right time to breach the dams, but that that option should continue to be on the table. The Yakama Nation praised Inslee and Murray for “championing a comprehensive approach to Columbia Basin salmon recovery.” We talk with Jeremy Takala, chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Committee for the Yakama Nation, about tribal priorities as the process moves forward.

Note: The following transcript was computer generated and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller:  Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee and U. S. Senator Patty Murray recently released a long anticipated report, final report on breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River. They said that taking out the dams is ultimately the best option for the survival of threatened and endangered salmon. But they also detailed the enormous impacts dam removal would have on energy, transportation and the economy in the Northwest. So they concluded that the dams should not come down until more work is done to replace their current benefits. In response, the Yakama Nation praised Insley and Murray for “championing a comprehensive approach to Columbia Basin salmon recovery”. Jeremy Takala is the chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Committee for the Yakama Nation and he joins us with more. What was your first response to the final report from Governor Inslee and Senator Murray?

Jeremy Takala:  I’m sure you’ve seen our response but we were happy that they’re recognizing the critical condition of salmon in the great Pacific Northwest and also recognizing the feasibility of breaching the lower Snake River dams. Not only that but [the need for] replacing the current benefits in order to improve our fishery and salmon recovery effort. For the Yakama Nation, we really felt one of the last few paragraphs in that report on the construction of the federal hydro systems in the Columbia Basin resulted in major, major impact to the tribal communities. But also it recognized the impact on our salmon, steelhead, lamprey, whether it be an anomalous or resident fish and in the whole Columbia River system.

I think we all know the hydro systems down the Columbia and Snake River have relocated many of our tribal members or relocated some to the reservation. But yet still to this day we have many, many Yakama tribe members that still reside along the banks of the Columbia River because that is our livelihood. That’s where our ancestors have lived. That’s where we have many of our longhouses still to this day where we practice our many different ceremonies throughout the year. So we do recognize and commend Murray and Inslee for recognizing the historical trauma that was placed upon our resources and our people.

Miller: I want to turn now to some of the logistics involved in the actual removal of the dam. What would have to happen first? One of the big prerequisites according to Inslee and Murray is replacing the electricity generation that they currently provide. What do you want that process of sighting and then constructing new forms of renewable energy systems to look like?

Takala:  I think the bigger picture here is where we have to ensure that treaty tribes need to be at the table when it comes to discussing energy replacement and/or transportation. Let’s not fall back in the lines of when the hydro systems were put into place. There are major needs that need to be addressed in order for our runs to [return to] historic [levels]. We’re talking about 15 -17 million. But for energy replacement and transportation, we need to be at the table. And when you discuss about energy replacement, we need to be sure that it respects tribal sovereignty, protects tribal treaty rights, but also affords the economic opportunities for tribal communities as well.

We can’t be implementing green energy projects as a replacement where it will have direct impacts on ESA (Endangered Species Act) listed tributaries or streams. It doesn’t make sense. If you’re gonna call it green energy, it can’t have a direct impact where there would be, again on the ESA list of streams, tribal gathering areas, wildlife migratory routes. The list goes on and then you talk about the grid, where are these transmission lines going to be located? Is it going to go over another area that the tribes hold as far as the legendary gathering site? The list goes on. So I know there are many different agencies that have been asking and because the Yakama Nation is such a large tribe - it recognizes the 14 tribes and bands now - it’s gonna take a great amount of work to identify it. And that’s the problem that we have. We want to streamline the processes but let’s take a step back. Let’s talk with the tribes. Let’s discuss where these projects may go and let’s discuss where they cannot go.

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Miller:  Another change that you’re pushing for, and if I understand correctly is one that Inslee and Murray seem to support, is to have tribal and state fisheries experts co-manage salmon restoration work instead of the status quo, which is having the Bonneville Power Administration do so.  How would that change the actual restoration work to have tribal experts and state experts do this as opposed to this federal agency?

Takala:  I think the key point is keeping a business - an energy agency - out of what we call, as you mentioned tribal and state fisheries co-managers in charge of the operation were, uh, when, when something that we here in the Northwest have been identified as we like to refer to as the billion dollar backlog. That consists of Columbia River hatcheries, fish passage system, the main stem federal dams, which consists of fish ladder repairs, repairs of fish screen and juvenile bypass systems. One of the main things we’ve been pushing forth on with many of the agencies and trying to get support is predator management.

We all know the sea lion issue that’s taken place because their food sources are diminishing offshore. But you know, we’re dealing with sea lions, we’re dealing with [unintelligible] colonies. [00:07:03.370] We’re dealing with the cons that we’re dealing with fish predation as well. So that’s a big thing. And we’re talking about sediment management and cold water refuge where the system is basically a system of lakes. We’re not having approved flowing spring runoff where it’s pushing sediment out. And if you drive along the Gorge and throughout the Basin, you’ll see tributaries where sentiment is reaching halfway out the Columbia River and you could practically walk across the tributary. Well, those are areas of predation that [have] taken a toll on out-migrating smolts.

We talk about cold water refuge. We have tributaries where, if the water is too warm, adults are wasting their life waiting for the tributary to cool off - wasting their energy. And it’s not guaranteeing that they’re going to make it back whether they be from a hatchery or from a natural spawning area. We talk about hatchery modernization upgrades that need to be addressed. We’re talking about areas and the land pray work. We’re also talking about habitat restoration as has been mentioned. We’re even talking about integrated ocean observing systems, tributary fish passage, that’s very important.

Those are some of the shovel ready projects that we have identified that we’ve been trying to seek funding for and push forth. Again, it’s been a struggle, when we have EPA basically deciding what projects should be a priority and whatnot.

Miller: I want to turn to politics here because it’s a crucial piece of this. The breaching of the dams would require congressional approval. For the most part Republicans in the west have been very much against efforts to take down these dams. Democrats have been supportive but lukewarm about it. Where do you see the possibility for bipartisan agreement? How would you get 60 U. S. Senators to say yes to this?

Takala:  As the report mentioned, [a key] is bringing everyone to the table. I mean a prime example that we’ve always liked to refer to where we have both sides of the aisle is the Yakima River Basin integrated plan. You know, the Yakima River Valley has a lot of farmers. But we also have sockeye reintroduction in the Yakima River. We have the coho program. We have the yellow hatchery that the tribe manages as well. And so we have to come to the table and decide how we can address this. We need water for the fish. But you guys also need water for your farm. That’s the prime example that we always like to reference to. You know, if we’re all on the same page, we’re all in the same picture here. Generations will be dealing with the issue if we won’t address it. And the future of all of our children and our grandchildren is to live in balance of some of the water needs.

Miller:  We just have about a minute left. But often in these conversations, the unstated message is that in terms of humans restoring salmon is gonna chiefly benefit Indigenous people in the Northwest. But that’s always seemed limited to me. What do you see as the benefits of salmon restoration for non-native people?

Takala:  We all know the Pacific Northwest salmon is kind of well known.  For us, we’re salmon people. That’s always been our stronghold. Assistance has provided for us, but you know, we know our neighbors that live in the area. So it provides an economic stability for them as well. It has always provided that for ceremonial subsistence and economically for our people. We really appreciate that kind of support. That kind of says, ‘hey, you know, if there’s no fish for everyone, we’re in trouble’. But I think we need to address this with both some recovery and other community goals as well and to have everyone at the seat on this and discuss how we can make this a better Northwest for our fishermen.

Miller:  Jeremy Takala, thanks very much for joining us. Jeremy Takala is the chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Committee for the Yakama Nation.

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