Biden Admin reaches historic agreement with Pacific Northwest Tribes and environmental groups on the Snake River

A wooden piece of art in the shape of a salmon and painted in bright colors

Photo Credit: Megan Mack

On December 14th, after many months of negotiations the Biden Administration announced an important agreement to invest in restoring Columbia Basin salmon and replace the services from the lower Snake River dams - setting the stage for their eventual breaching. The agreement was reached between the Six Sovereigns, plaintiff groups and the Federal Government. . With this landmark agreement plaintiffs and the Six Sovereigns agreed to a multi-year stay in the litigation while all parties work to implement the agreement. 

This set of "actions and commitments" from the United States Government (USG) was in response to a proposal by the Six Sovereigns (Washington and Oregon State, and the four lower Columbia River Tribes - Nez Perce, Yakama, Umatilla and Warm Springs) called the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative (CBRI).  The CBRI, which was supported by the NGO plaintiff groups, including the Sierra Club, is a comprehensive plan for investing in salmon habitat, water quality, and replacing the services from the lower Snake River dams leading to breaching of these dams.

The announcement is the result of decades of activism and litigation that will invest in habitat and water quality and put us on the path to breaching and recovering the salmon populations in the Columbia Basin.  Key elements of the agreement include: $500 million to invest in habitat, water quality and modernizing hatcheries. Developing plans to replace the energy, irrigation, and transportation services of the dams.  A major Tribal Energy Program to develop renewable energy resources that can count as replacement resources for energy from the dams pending congress authorizing their removal.  River operations, including spill at the dams, that overall benefit many of the runs of salmon but that also include a reduction in summer spill that will harm fall chinook salmon that helps with BPA revenues.  We expect a decision in fall of 2024 to redo the Trump era EIS and Record of Decision (what we have been  litigating) that will evaluate breaching the lower Snake River dams and make a recommendation regarding their removal. 

The aging dams along the Snake River provide a modest amount of electricity but at a terrible price to the salmon populations that everyone from local Tribes, to sport and commercial anglers, to iconic species like bears and orcas, depend on. To prevent the loss of the Southern Resident Orcas, we need healthy and abundant populations of salmon.

    This is a critical step forward, but it is imperative that the Northwest congressional delegation come out in support of this agreement. Senator Patty Murray of WA released a statement in support of the agreement on December 18th, but we need more. Please contact your member of congress and ask that they support this agreement. 

    Click here to send an email to your representative!

    Please also help by calling your representative through the capitol switchboard is: 202-224-3131. Please give them a ring and ask them to connect you with your member of congress. You may use the following language or speak from the heart:

    “I urge you to support the recent set of actions put forward by the Biden administration for salmon on the Columbia/Snake Rivers. This agreement is an important step forward to preventing the extinction of salmon - and begins to meet our treaty commitments to Columbia River tribes. This plan will ensure services of the four Lower Snake River dams are replaced before breaching occurs. I am confident that this agreement is a win for all Northwest residents.”

    You can read more from Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous, who has released a statement on the agreement.

    The agreement has garnered extensive media coverage.