The White House Council on Environmental Quality held listening sessions this spring and is now asking for public comments on dams in the Columbia River basin.
They’re especially focused on four dams on the lower Snake River that have been major barriers to the dwindling salmon populations that migrate upstream to Idaho.
Mitch Cutter is the salmon and steelhead associate with the Idaho Conservation League.
“What we’ve seen so far in both the listening session and in the public comments,” said Cutter, “is an overwhelming majority of people saying they want to breach the lower Snake River dams – because it’s essential for salmon and steelhead, and because there’s other ways of doing the things that the dams provide.”
Supporters of keeping the dams say they provide essential energy, irrigation and barging functions. But Cutter noted that during listening sessions, more than three-quarters of commenters were in favor of breaching the dams.
The Council on Environmental Quality public comment period is open through August 31.
Separately, the conversations come as federal officials recently cut Upper Snake River flows at Jackson Lake Dam in the Mountain West due to heavy snowmelt, highlighting a tussle between Wyoming ecological needs and Idaho farmers’ water rights. State officials and Teton County conservationists expressed concern that the reduced flows would mean a loss of habitat for fish such as cutthroat trout and bluehead suckers – designated a species of greatest conservation need in the state. The Bureau of Reclamation and the state came to an agreement to allow the minimum water to flow through for the species’ ecological survival.
Cutter said there is interest in removing the dams from a variety of people in the Northwest.
“We’re seeing people from across the region,” said Cutter, “come out of the woodwork and say, ‘This issue matters to me, even if it didn’t two, three, five, ten years ago. We’d like to have this problem solved.'”
During this year’s legislative session, Washington state lawmakers approved $7.5 million for planning to replace the dam’s services. The four Snake River dams are in southeast Washington.
KHOL staff contributed to this report.