Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed biennial budget bills totaling $54.6 billion on May 21, but a provision to study whether breaching or removing the four dams on the Snake River is necessary to protect salmon aroused opposition from the Washington Public Utility Association and other groups.
The 2019-2021 operating, capital and transportation budgets that the legislature approved in late April will provide for many of the key priorities Inslee outlined at the start of the legislative session, including helping orca, commonly known as killer whales, off the Pacific Coast. Chinook salmon are a major part of their diet and the governor called for millions of dollars in expenditures to support recovery efforts for the endangered Southern Resident orca population.
Included in the operating budget is an appropriation for the governor's office to spend a total $750,000, or $375,000 a year, to contract with a neutral third party to establish a process for local, state, tribal and federal leaders and stakeholders to study possible breaching or removal of the four lower Snake River dams to aid in the recovery of Chinook salmon populations. The contract is exempt from competitive bidding requirements.
Also, the budget calls for spending a total of $580,000, or $290,000 a year, from the general fund solely for a rulemaking to change standards to allow a higher volume of water to be spilled over Columbia River and Snake River dams to increase total dissolved gas for the benefit of salmon.
The Washington Public Utility Association joined about 30 other agencies, such as the Washington Farm Bureau and Association of Washington Business, in urging Inslee to veto the dam study line item from the budget. They noted the federal government is considering removing the dams as part of a broader, more comprehensive study of the Columbia River Power System.
Two Republican members of Congress from Washington, Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse, also objected to the study, calling it a "waste of taxpayer dollars" that could otherwise be used for salmon recovery programs.
However, Inslee highlighted orca and salmon recovery efforts in announcing his signing of the budget bills.
For years environmentalists have called for removal of the dams and the subject has been a continual source of controversy. The four dams — Ice Harbor, Little Goose, Lower Granite and Lower Monumental — are owned by the federal government. They were all built in the 1960s and 1970s and have a combined operating capacity of 2,880 MW. The Bonneville Power Administration markets and transmits power generated by the dams.