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Press Release

Members Investigate NOAA's Sudden Policy Reversal Impacting Lower Snake River Dams

  • WOW Subcommittee

Today, Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries Chairman Cliff Bentz (R-Ore.) and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) sent a letter to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Richard Spinrad regarding NOAA's recent reversal on supporting continued operations of the dams on the Lower Snake River. In part, the members, who are seeking additional information on the policy reversal, wrote:

"On September 30, 2022, NMFS [National Marine Fisheries Service] directly contradicted its own BiOp allowing for the operation of the Lower Snake River Dams when it released a report (the '2022 Report') declaring that breaching the Lower Snake River Dams was necessary to achieve “abundant” stocks of salmon, steelhead, and other fish species. NMFS’s apparent newfound support for breaching the Lower Snake River Dams is superficially conclusory as the 2022 Report included numerous caveats to the efficacy of breaching the Lower Snake River Dams. Notably, the 2022 Report admitted that there is 'uncertainty' on whether breaching the Lower Snake River Dams would provide 'direct productivity and survival benefits' for 'salmon and steelhead stocks.' While it was 'expected' but not certain that juvenile survival rates would increase from the current 75 percent, the actual survival rate would still certainly be below 100 percent. Further uncertainty cited in the 2022 Report includes the 'substantial disagreement' over the actual impact that passage through the Lower Snake River Dams has on fish mortality, environmental degradation in other areas, and the impact of climate change – including whether the effects of climate change can be mitigated at all.  

"Thus, by NMFS’s own admission, the expected results from breaching the Lower Snake River Dams on fish populations are at best inconclusive. Additionally, in its most recent Snake River salmon recovery plan, NMFS acknowledged that 'with few exceptions, fish passage measures, including the use of surface passage structures and spill, are performing as expected and are very close to achieving, or have already achieved, the juvenile dam passage survival objective of 96 percent for yearling Chinook salmon and steelhead migrants' as defined in the preceding NMFS Biological Opinion.  

"For more than two decades, there has been extensive, ongoing litigation over the Lower Snake River Dams. Various national environmental organizations, eco-activist groups, and other plaintiffs are suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, NMFS, and other defendants, to breach the Lower Snake River Dams (the 'Columbia River Basin Litigation'). The Columbia River Basin Litigation is currently stayed until August 31, 2023, as the Biden Administration’s Council on Environmental Quality has directed parties to engage in mediation to 'facilitate meaningful engagement on comprehensive solutions.' Given the role of NMFS as a defendant in the Columbia River Basin Litigation, the Committee is deeply concerned over NMFS’s efforts and ability to represent the Federal government’s position in favor of the continued operation of the Lower Snake River Dams in an unbiased manner now that NMFS has issued the 2022 Report in support of breaching the Lower Snake River Dams."

Read the full letter here.