science environment

Salmon-Friendly Rulings On Columbia, Snake Dams Could Be Overturned By Congress

By Cassandra Profita (OPB)
Oct. 12, 2017 11:35 p.m.
The first powerhouse of the Bonneville Dam, 40 miles east of Portland, on the Columbia River.

The first powerhouse of the Bonneville Dam, 40 miles east of Portland, on the Columbia River.


A bill sponsored by several U.S. House members from the Northwest aims to overturn two recent court decisions on Columbia and Snake river dams.


Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon rejected the federal plan for managing dams to protect salmon in the Columbia River Basin.

He then ordered federal agencies to spill more water through the dams to help fish and to consider removing Snake River dams.

A new bill in the U.S. House of Representatives would allow Congress to overrule those decisions. House Bill 3144 reinstates the rejected plan and cancels court orders for spilling water and analyzing dam removal.


At a hearing before the House Committee on Natural Resources Thursday, Washington Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the goal is to reassert congressional authority over the dams and keep hydropower affordable.

With Bonneville Power Administration already hiking electricity rates, she said, utilities are shopping for other options.

“Unnecessary litigation and unnecessary spill requirements by this Oregon judge only add onto the cost,” she said. "Dams and fish can co-exist, but we must get out of the courtroom and allow fish recovery to continue."

Conservation groups say the bill would hurt already imperiled salmon and steelhead. They’re worried it will get attached to a must-pass bill in the coming months.

Liz Hamilton, director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, told the committee that the bill would lock in "an approach that isn't working for fish."

She said increasing the amount of water spilled for fish, which reduces the amount of hydropower produced, has produced positive results for fish in previous years.

"We know dams and reservoirs are the salmon's main cause of human-caused mortality," she said. "Spill is our most effective near-term tool. What we want are adult (salmon) coming back, and there's overwhelming evidence that spilling gets adults back."