Report on Snake River dams commissioned by Inslee, Murray will be delayed

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Jul. 27—A report that could push Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray to officially support breaching the four lower Snake River dams will be a few weeks to a month late.

The final version of the Lower Snake River Dams: Benefit Replacement Report was scheduled to be unveiled at the end of July. A draft that was released in June found breaching the dams as a means to recover Snake River salmon and steelhead could cost between $10.3 billion and $27.2 billion.

Inslee and Murray commissioned the report last year to help them solidify their position on salmon recovery and determine if dam breaching is necessary. Mike Faulk, a spokesperson for Inslee, said in an email that the final version is now expected to be released in mid-to-late August.

"The governor and senator understand the impact these final recommendations would have and intend to be thorough before making a decision. It's crucial to collect all the pertinent information we need from stakeholders and to have time to study and contextualize it relative to the initial report's findings. That's all still being done."

Fisheries scientists have long said breaching the four lower Snake River dams would increase the survival of threatened and endangered Snake River salmon and steelhead. Earlier this month, the Biden administration said in another draft report that the dams need to be breached if wild salmon and steelhead are to be restored to fishable levels.

The dams slow the river and increase the travel time of juvenile fish during their migration to the Pacific Ocean. They can also cause the river to warm to levels lethal to adult salmon during July and August.

But breaching them would come at a hefty cost. The dams produce an average of about 900 megawatts of electricity per year and allow for tug-and-barge transportation of wheat and other commodities between Lewiston and the Tri-Cities. Just how much it would cost to replace the power and find alternative ways for farmers to get wheat to West Coast ports has been the subject of intense debate.

Rep. Mike Simpson unveiled a concept last year estimating the cost at $33.5 billion. The draft report from the Biden administration said replacing the power would cost $11 billion to $19 billion but under some scenarios could balloon to $75 billion.

A court-approved stay to salmon-and-dams lawsuit pitting the federal government against the Nez Perce Tribe, Oregon and a coalition of environmental groups is scheduled to expire at the end of July. Last fall, both sides asked for the timeout so they could pursue a long-term solution that will restore salmon, honor tribal treaty rights and meet the needs of the region.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.