Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Already it is August and the summer is quickly passing by. Since the 2019 session adjourned toward the end of April, the past three months have been very busy and I've been on the road a lot. I would like to take a few minutes to provide this update with legislative news affecting the 9th District.
New Snake River dam-removal study further advances misinformation campaign
There's a strong push by Western Washington environmental groups, Seattle-area legislators and Gov. Inslee to breach the Snake River dams between the Tri-Cities and Clarkston. They are of the false belief that removing the dams would substantially increase the salmon population and result in saving Southern Resident orcas in northern Puget Sound.
Powerful people and big money are behind this misguided effort. Aside from $750,000 the governor secured in the 2019-21 state operating budget to study dam removal, the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's company, Vulcan Inc., paid for a private study by ECONorthwest, which was released at the end of July. It said the economic and recreational benefits of breaching the dams would outweigh the costs — a conclusion that farmers, ranchers and port districts throughout the region refute.
In a joint statement, Reps. Dan Newhouse (R-4th District) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-5th District) said, “This privately-funded study is a slap in the face of our state's agricultural economy. It is another example of Seattle-based interests failing to understand our way of life in Central and Eastern Washington.” I agree with them.
Federal agencies are also studying the river system — including dam breaching — and will have a draft report for the region to review in February.
Washington's Snake River dams – Legislators hear the real story, the true impact
Misinformation playing on people's emotions toward saving orcas is getting a lot of publicity — but there's an entirely different side to this story to counter this dam-breaching campaign that really needs the public's attention. That's why I was glad when several local agricultural groups organized a boat trip from Kennewick to Ice Harbor Dam on Aug. 1 to educate legislators about the importance of Snake River dams to our region.
I was among 23 legislators who went on the tour. We heard from experts representing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and representatives of grain growers, potato growers and irrigators.
According to Laurie Weitkamp of NOAA Fisheries, recent downward trends for many salmon populations are largely due to unfavorably warm ocean conditions, and not due to a single river. Her report from NOAA also says, “No salmon recovery effort on a single river will bring about recovery of southern resident killer whales on its own.” She notes that orcas consume a diversity of stocks throughout the year, not exclusive to Columbia stocks.
“Since the listing of endangered fish in the 1990s, millions have been spent retrofitting dams. Salmon survival through our dams now reaches or exceeds what occurs in undammed rivers,” added Kristin Meira of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association. (Read her commentary here.)
Bonneville Power's Christopher Allen said removal of just the Ice Harbor Dam alone would have major impacts on the power supply to the Tri-Cities, which could not be easily replaced. He added there's not enough wind or solar energy that is fully sustainable to replace that loss, especially in peak-energy use months, such as the winter.
Port of Whitman County Commissioner Tom Kammerzell added removal of the dams would severely impact farmers in Eastern Washington. He noted replacement of barges with trucks to transport grain would require an additional 135,000 semi-trucks on Washington's highways annually.
“For farming, it would impact us by doubling the costs of transportation. It would triple the cost of using fossil fuels, increase emissions, and affect jobs and the economy of Eastern Washington as much as 150 miles away from both sides of the river,” said Kammerzell. “These dams represent commerce, navigation, real people, real lives and jobs. It's not just a simple answer to a complex problem.”
At least two major newspapers have called the Seattle ECONorthwest/Vulcan report “propaganda” and “flawed.” You can read those editorials here:
- Latest anti-dam study is 'unscientific and inaccurate.' It belongs in the trash (Tri-City Herald – Aug. 7, 2019)
- Dubious 'study' on dam breaching is propaganda (Union-Bulletin – Aug. 4, 2019)
Dye on Puget Sound sewage spill: Clean up your backyard before dictating environmental policy to Eastern Washington
I think it is the ultimate hypocrisy for Puget Sound environmentalists to call for Snake River dam removal when in fact their own failures are no doubt jeopardizing salmon in Puget Sound. The failure of a treatment plant in King County has once again resulted in three million gallons of untreated sewage discharged into Puget Sound — this time on July 19.
That same facility, the West Point Treatment Plant, had major problems in 2017 and was fined by the state Department of Ecology (DOE) back then. DOE says it will investigate this latest sewage discharge, including a separate incident at the Renton Wastewater Treatment Plant on July 18.
Before Western Washington dictates environmental policies that would hurt Eastern Washington, shouldn't it clean up its own backyard?
Here are stories on other failures that have hurt Puget Sound's waterways:
- Sewage overflow at Golden Gardens beach 10 times higher than previous estimates (KCPQ TV)
- 19,400 gallons of wastewater spill into Puget Sound during Shoreline outage (KING TV)
- Power outage leads to 330,000 gallons of storm water, wastewater being pumped into Puget Sound (KCPQ TV)
Sen. Ericksen: Let's breach their West side dams, locks
A proposal was unveiled this week by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who is drafting legislation to launch a state study of breaching the Ballard Locks, removing Seattle City Light dams from the Skagit River, and restoring Seattle lakes and waterways to the natural condition that existed before settlers arrived 168 years ago.
In his press release, Ericksen says, “Many Seattle environmentalists seem to think the best way to rebuild fish runs to feed Puget Sound killer whales is to tear down faraway dams on a river system that doesn't come anywhere close. But if we want to go destroying things at enormous expense in the name of the orca, there is no better place to start than Seattle.”
A busy summer and many miles to be your best representative
I am constantly working to learn new things and do my best to be the most effective legislator on your behalf. This summer is providing new learning and leadership training opportunities.
In June, I attended the Senior Executives in State and Local Government program at Harvard Kennedy School of Executive Education.
During the first part of July, I attended the Emerging Leaders Program at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business in Charlottesville, Virginia. I also attended the annual meeting of The Council of State Governments West in Big Sky, Montana, where I met with other legislators to discuss issues unique to western states. Then I went to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada to participate in the annual summit of Pacific NW Economic Region (PNWER) where I spoke on an Agriculture and Livestock Health panel and on a Water Policy panel. I also added my voice to those calling for the ratification of the United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement (USMCA). See my interview on Global News.
This week, I was in Portland learning more about water policy/infrastructure at the National Water Resources Association's Western Water Seminar.
I work for you throughout the year
Although I've been on the road frequently throughout the summer, I remain in constant contact with my Olympia office and the folks at home. I work for you throughout the year, so if you have questions, comments, ideas or concerns about an issue, please pick up the phone, email or write to me. It is my honor to serve you. My contact information is below.