AKA, yet another bill aimed at breathing life support into deadbeat dams

“It’s like flushing money down the river,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) in a news release last week, referring to the federal court order to “spill” water at the four lower Snake River dams.

Spill is extra water released over the dams that helps juvenile fish migrate to the ocean more efficiently and more safely, namely because the cascading water does not pass through the dams' fish-filleting turbines.

Idle turbines, however, cost dam operators money. And feeling the lobbying heat, Newhouse, alongside Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Greg Gianforte (R-MT) and several other colleagues, introduced HR-3144, a bill that seeks to save the dams at the expense of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead.

Joseph Bogaard, director of Save our Wild Salmon, says the bill is bunk. “If it becomes law, it would lock in a grossly expensive approach that is working for no one." (More than $10 billion of tax money has been spent on salmon and steelhead recovery efforts in the region for over 20 years, without a single ESA de-listing.) “Our Northwest native fish and the healthy, resilient ecosystems they require, need more help today not less.”

Newhouse's do-less bill would maintain the status quo by overturning the most recent federal court decision by judge Michael Simon, ruling that the latest 2014 BiOp violated the ESA. It would take dam removal off the table until at least 2022. It would also end the spill program mandated by judge Simon. A vote is expected this week.

Spill is now underway: A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled April 2 in favor of an April 2017 U.S. District Court injunction allowing more spring spill at four lower Snake and four lower Columbia river dams. With the decision, spill began on April 3 at lower Snake River dams and on April 10 at lower Columbia River dams.

And in case you forgot why we need it: Last year we saw the lowest steelhead returns to the Snake watershed in 50 years.

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