The Biden-Harris Administration today announced a historic agreement to work in partnership with Tribes and States from the Pacific Northwest to restore wild salmon populations, expand Tribally sponsored clean energy production, and provide stability for communities that depend on the Columbia River System for agriculture, energy, recreation, and transportation.
The Biden-Harris Administration has made an unprecedented commitment to honor the United States’ obligations to Tribal Nations and protect and restore America’s natural wonders for future generations, while also recognizing the important benefits that the Columbia River System provides to communities and businesses throughout the region. Building on two years of regional engagement, in September President Biden directed Federal agencies to prioritize the restoration of healthy and abundant salmon, steelhead, and other native fish populations in the Columbia River Basin. Today’s agreement, when combined with other funding that the Administration is anticipated to deliver to the region, will bring more than $1 billion in new Federal investments to wild fish restoration in the Columbia River Basin over the next decade and facilitate the build-out of at least one to three gigawatts of Tribally sponsored clean energy production.
Under President Biden’s leadership, the Federal government is charting a new path forward, in partnership with States and Tribal Nations in the region, for the restoration of wild salmon and other native fish in the Columbia River Basin while safeguarding and strengthening sustainable energy and water resources. The agreement enables an unprecedented 10-year break from decades-long litigation against the Federal government’s operation of dams in the Pacific Northwest.
As part of the agreement, the Biden-Harris Administration is committing to:
- New Funding for Fish and Wildlife: The Bonneville Power Administration, a federal power marketing administration under the Department of Energy, will invest $300 million over 10 years to restore native fish and their habitats throughout the Columbia River Basin, with added measures to increase the autonomy of States and Tribes to use these funds. Of this $300 million, $100 million would be provided to the four Lower River Treaty Tribes, Washington, and Oregon to use for fish restoration projects, and $200 million would be provided for hatchery modernization, upgrades, and maintenance. The funding is supplemented by additional investments from the Department of the Interior, the Department of Transportation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Tribally Sponsored Clean Energy: The Department of Energy is committing to support the development of at least one to three gigawatts of Tribally sponsored clean energy projects to build energy infrastructure that, if Congress authorizes breach of the Lower Snake River Dams, could help to replace the power generated by those dams. These resources provide the region options should Congress choose to consider dam breach while still meeting clean energy, energy reliability, and other resilience imperatives. The Administration, however, is not making a judgment on whether to breach the dams, nor does it have the authority to do so; that authority resides with Congress.
- Increased Flexibility: The Administration is committing to adjustments to the operations of the Federal hydrosystem to deliver a net-benefit for some fish, while maintaining grid reliability and upholding health and safety requirements. These adjustments will also increase flexibility to deliver power during the summer when it is most needed. Importantly, the agreement provides 10 years of predictable operations for the region.
- Studies of Dam Services: The Administration will undertake or help fund studies of how the transportation, irrigation, and recreation services provided by the four Lower Snake River dams could be replaced, to help inform Congress should it consider authorizing dam breach in the future.
Wild salmon, steelhead, and other native fish populations in the Columbia River Basin are essential to the culture, economy, religion, and way of life of Tribal Nations and Indigenous peoples. Due to the Federal government’s construction and operation of Federal dams, private dam building, population growth, and other factors, wild populations of many salmon and steelhead species are severely depleted, substantially harming the Tribes that rely on them. Climate change is further imperiling these fish populations through warming water temperatures, altered stream flows, and other stressors. Since the Federal dams were constructed, 13 salmon and steelhead species have been listed as threatened or endangered, and none have recovered.
This announcement builds on a historic agreement the Biden-Harris Administration announced earlier this year to support Tribally led efforts to bring back salmon populations in the Upper Columbia River Basin. The Upper Columbia agreement between the United States, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and the Spokane Tribe of Indians includes $200 million over 20 years from the Bonneville Power Administration.