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Idaho Legislature once again comes out against dam removal, breaching efforts

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Idaho Legislature once again comes out against dam removal, breaching efforts

Feb 26, 2024 | 7:08 pm ET
By Mia Maldonado
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Idaho Legislature once again comes out against dam removal, breaching efforts
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The Lower Monumental Dam is on the Snake River in Washington state. (Getty Images)

In a 29-5 vote, the Idaho Senate on Monday adopted Senate Joint Memorial 103 to voice opposition to the federal government’s efforts to remove and breach dams in the Columbia-Snake River system.

A joint memorial is not a bill, but rather it is a petition or representation made by either chamber and approved in the other chamber, “addressed to whoever can effectuate the request of the memorial,” according to Idaho legislative rules. According to the joint memorial, the Idaho Legislature addresses President Joe Biden, the U.S. Congress and Idaho’s congressional delegation.  

The Idaho Legislature in the joint memorial said it recognizes the importance of the Columbia-Snake River system for fish and wildlife, recreation, hydropower generation, irrigation, and transportation for agriculture. 

But Idaho lawmakers argue that dam removal or breaching in the river system would come at the expense of Idaho’s agricultural industry. 

“The purpose of this memorial is to oppose the removal of the dams in the Snake River and to emphasize the importance of the Port of Lewiston and the Columbia-Snake River system to the economy and livelihoods of Idaho citizens,” memorial sponsor Sen. Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs said. “Idaho farm families who grow wheat rely on this river system to get their crop to foreign markets.”

According to the joint memorial, nearly 10% of all U.S. wheat exports are barged through the four dams on the Snake River, and about 50% of all Idaho-grown wheat is barged from Lewiston to Portland and then exported to international markets. Removing or breaching the dams would make it unnavigable for farmers to transport those products to port for export, opponents of dam breaching have said

Senate Majority Leader, Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, said he is pleased to see the legislation before the Senate.

Idaho Legislature once again comes out against dam removal, breaching efforts
Majority Leader Sen. Kelly Arthur Anthon, R-Burley, listens to proceedings on the Senate floor at the Idaho Capitol on Jan. 17, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Anthon, who manages an electric utility, said he is concerned that proposals to breach the dams fail to show how they plan to replace the hydroelectric power produced by dams in the Columbia-Snake River system. 

“By the way, this is carbon-free (energy),” Anthon said. “This is some of the best generated power in the world, and I will tell you that our competitors in third world countries who are doing this — they don’t care about the fish. We’ve made incredible investments in trying to preserve species, and done a good job… So when we make proposals that don’t have any practical solutions, I think it’s incumbent upon us to say to our federal government — this is a bad idea.”

This is not the first time the Idaho Legislature has said it is against dam breaching efforts. 

In 2021, the Idaho Legislature approved a similar joint memorial addressed to the U.S. Congress and specifically congressional delegations representing Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon. 

Opposition show concern for tribes, salmon restoration initiatives

Monday’s joint memorial comes one week after Northwest Tribes and the Oregon and Washington governors met in Washington, D.C., to celebrate last year’s agreement to avoid litigation over dams in the Columbia-Snake River Basin. 

As reported by States Newsroom, the agreement came as a result of negotiation among the states, tribes, environmental groups and federal agencies, who worked to establish a path to reviving the area’s salmon and steelhead populations and called for a 10-year pause in legal fighting.

Unlike neighboring governors who celebrated the agreement, Idaho Gov. Brad Little and Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke in December condemned the agreement.

Federal funds boost tribal-led revival efforts for salmon in upper Columbia River Basin

Instead of working together to find common ground, the signatories to the agreement pandered to their political supporters and paid no attention to the real impacts dam removal would have on Idahoans,” Little and Bedke wrote in a statement.

During Monday’s Senate debate, Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, acknowledged the Nez Perce Tribe’s visit last week to D.C. to sign and celebrate the agreement. She voted in opposition to the joint memorial, noting that it would be a step backwards to the progress made between tribes and federal agencies. 

“Congress still has to pass the act to remove the dams, but this memorial sends the wrong message to problem solving,” Wintrow said.

Sen. Carrie Semmelroth, D-Boise, also spoke against the bill. While she said she understands the importance the river system has for Idaho’s agriculture industry, she acknowledged tribal initiatives to restore salmon and other native fish populations in the Columbia-Snake River system.

“We also know that our tribes will be affected by this memorial and based on conversations with the Nez Perce Tribe, it appears that their voices were not included in the memorial,” she said. “I absolutely support our ag industry, and I would support this memorial if we were able to incorporate the voices of our tribes.”