Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director,Columbia Riverkeeper
Today I stood on the Columbia’s shores at Celilo Park and watched history in the making. Yakama Nation, supported by Lummi Nation, announced a bold vision: a Columbia River teeming with salmon, a restored Celilo Falls, and a Pacific Northwest powered by clean energy that does not drive salmon and orca to extinction. Yakama Nation Chairman Jode Goudy stated: “The Columbia River dams were built on this false legal foundation [the doctrine of discovery], and decimated the Yakama Nation’s fisheries, traditional foods, and cultural sites.”
Salmon—and the people and orcas that depend on salmon—are in crisis. Today the Yakama and Lummi nations called on federal leaders to remove the John Day, The Dalles, and Bonneville dams. Columbia Riverkeeper stands in solidarity with Yakama and Lummi nations. We respect the tribes’ rights to advocate for and defend treaty rights, including today’s vision of a free-flowing lower Columbia River.
For Columbia Riverkeeper, it comes down to this: the decades-long effort to recover endangered salmon is not working. The Columbia River is too hot for salmon survival. The stagnant reservoirs behind the dams create dangerously hot water. Climate change is pushing the river over the edge. Year after year, the river gets hotter. The system is broken.
Dam removal is a complex issue that will require intense analysis and must ensure solutions for clean and reliable electricity and transportation. In the decades ahead, I’m confident we can replace the dams with truly clean energy, transport cargo to ocean ports, and save salmon runs from extinction. What about flood control? The three lower Columbia dams are “run-of-the-river” dams and do not provide significant flood control, unlike large storage dams in British Columbia.
Re-powering the Pacific Northwest with wind, solar, and battery storage will create local jobs for decades. This transition will take time, and it’s smart to start planning today. It may have been heresy to say this 40 years ago, but hydropower is not clean energy. It is destroying salmon runs, orcas, and cultures that depend on salmon. And it’s not cheap anymore; wind and solar are becoming more affordable than electricity from dams. In this age of extinction and climate change, we must take bold action.
When was the last time you were asked to imagine the unimaginable? Imagine a free-flowing Columbia coursing through the Gorge. Imagine record salmon runs returning year after year. Imagine the roar of Celilo Falls, which some still remember.
As you let today’s historic announcement sink in, join me in embracing Yakama and Lummi Nation’s callto consider bold, new ideas. Just imagine.
Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director