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Idaho Legislature Wades Into Dam Breaching Debate

Screenshot from Rep. Mike Simpson video

Idaho’s legislature has weighed into the newly-reignited regional conversation about whether to breach four lower Snake River dams. A Senate committee on Monday approved a memorial that praises the dams for the role they play in the regional economy and culture.Senator Regina Bayer’s [R-Meridian] memorial is a message to Congress. It’s specifically aimed at members who might be open to a suggestion by Idaho Representative Mike Simpson that the nation fund a project to breach the four dams as part of a federal infrastructure package.

“If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you directly benefit from the Columbia-Snake River system each time you eat food grown on farms irrigated by river waters, or purchase goods shipped up and down the Columbia and Snake Rivers, or enjoy lights, electronics, vehicles and other items powered by hydroelectricity," she said.

To change or remove them as part of a plan to improve fish stocks, she says, would be a costly mistake. She blamed much of the demise of those stocks on inhospitable ocean conditions.

Bayer’s proposal sailed through a Senate committee on Monday, but it took a few shots first from Idaho river guides and members of their trade organizations. Aaron Lieberman from Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association says it ignores the regional benefits of river-related tourism.

“Even as these fish runs continue to decline, and they do, these outfitters and guides continue hundreds of millions of dollars to these communities each year. Their hardship with diminished returns is not hypothetical. It’s real, immediate and long-endured," he said. "This memorial does not address or even acknowledge these impacts or their plight. In fact, it does the opposite."

Bayer’s measure is supported by farmers and other business interests. It now moves to the full Senate for consideration.