Biden-Harris Administration Unveils 10-Year Accord with Tribes and States to Revitalize Columbia River Basin

Staff report

WASHINGTON — In a landmark move, the Biden-Harris Administration revealed on Wednesday a momentous pact with Tribal Nations and States across the Pacific Northwest aimed at rejuvenating wild salmon populations, expanding clean energy initiatives, and fortifying communities reliant on the Columbia River System.

The accord signifies an unparalleled commitment by the administration to honor the United States’ obligations to Tribal Nations while safeguarding and reviving America’s natural marvels for future generations. With an eye on bolstering the Columbia River System’s vital contributions to regional communities and businesses, the agreement aims to revive healthy and robust populations of salmon, steelhead, and native fish species in the basin.

President Biden, steering the federal government toward a fresh collaborative approach, directed Federal agencies in September to prioritize the restoration of native fish populations in the Columbia River Basin. This latest agreement, coupled with anticipated additional funding, is set to inject over $1 billion in new Federal investments toward wild fish restoration over the coming decade. Additionally, it will facilitate the development of at least one to three gigawatts of clean energy projects sponsored by Tribes.

Underlining a significant departure from protracted litigation against the Federal government’s dam operations in the Pacific Northwest, the accord spans an unprecedented 10-year duration.

Key components of the agreement include a commitment by the Biden-Harris Administration to:

  • New Funding for Fish and Wildlife: The Bonneville Power Administration is slated to allocate $300 million over 10 years for the restoration of native fish and their habitats in the Columbia River Basin. Of this amount, $100 million is designated for four Lower River Treaty Tribes, Washington, and Oregon for fish restoration projects, while $200 million is earmarked for hatchery modernization and maintenance.
  • Tribally Sponsored Clean Energy: The Department of Energy pledges support for the development of clean energy projects, ranging from one to three gigawatts, sponsored by Tribal entities. These initiatives could potentially substitute power generation from dams if Congress authorizes their breach. However, the administration refrains from passing judgment on dam breach, emphasizing that such authority lies with Congress.
  • Increased Flexibility: Adjustments to the Federal hydrosystem’s operations aim to yield a net benefit for fish populations while ensuring grid reliability and adherence to health and safety standards. These adaptations will enhance power delivery during peak summer months while ensuring 10 years of predictable operations in the region.
  • Studies of Dam Services: Undertaking or assisting in funding studies on potential replacements for transportation, irrigation, and recreation services currently provided by the four Lower Snake River dams. These studies will provide insights for Congress if it considers authorizing dam breach in the future.

The preservation and revival of wild salmon, steelhead, and other native fish populations in the Columbia River Basin are deemed crucial to the cultural, economic, and spiritual fabric of Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities. Over the years, the construction and operation of Federal dams, coupled with population growth and climate change effects, have severely depleted these populations, imperiling the tribes reliant on them. Notably, 13 salmon and steelhead species have been listed as threatened or endangered since the dams’ construction, with no species having recovered.

This announcement follows an earlier historic agreement announced by the Biden-Harris Administration, supporting Tribally led efforts to restore salmon populations in the Upper Columbia River Basin. The Upper Columbia agreement includes a $200 million allocation over 20 years from the Bonneville Power Administration to the United States, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and the Spokane Tribe of Indians.

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