Idaho Legislature comes out against Simpson’s salmon recovery plan

Idaho House adopts joint memorial opposing removing or breaching dams

By: - April 8, 2021 4:38 pm

The House in session at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The Idaho Legislature formally came out against U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson’s salmon recovery proposal that calls for breaching dams along the Snake River.

The Idaho House voted 58-12 along party lines Thursday to adopt Senate Joint Memorial 103, which is a statement of opposition to removing or breaching dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers and tributaries. 

Joint memorials don’t carry the full force of law in Idaho like a normal bill. Instead, joint memorials are a petition or representation “addressed to whoever can effectuate the request of the memorial,” according to House and Senate Joint Rule Two.

The memorial says breaching dams or taking water for fish enhancement efforts “would inflict on the citizenry of the state a loss in economic and trade opportunities, a loss of recharge waters for the state’s aquifers, a loss of navigation and transportation, an increased risk of floods, an increase in electrical rates, a shortfall in power generation, a loss of recreational opportunities and a threatened quality of life for Idaho citizens.”

“Get a hold of congressman you-know-who-his-name-is and let him know that this is a damn bad idea for Idaho,” Rep. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, said. 

Mike Simpson official portrait
U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson

Simpson, R-Idaho, unveiled the Columbia Basin Initiative earlier this year, saying it was a proposal to save endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead, replace the energy from the dams and protect the people and stakeholders on all sides of the Northwest salmon dam issue.

It comes with a projected cost of $34 billion in investments for dam removal, energy development, water quality, roads and railway infrastructure, agriculture and communities and American Indian tribes. 

“I am not certain removing these dams will restore Idaho’s salmon and prevent their extinction,” Simpson said in a video posted to his YouTube channel Feb. 6. “But I am certain that if we do not take this course of action, we are condemning Idaho’s salmon to extinction.”

Simpson said he put the proposal forward after he and his staff conducted 300 meetings over three years on the issue.

“In the end we realized there is no viable path that can allow us to keep the dams in place,” Simpson said in the video.

The Idaho Conservation League came out in favor of Simpson’s plan, calling it “bold, comprehensive and urgently needed for Idahoans and the people of the Northwest.”

ICL officials wrote the proposal includes “comprehensive investments in clean and affordable energy, efficient transportation, water quality, technology development, agriculture and local communities.”

But Simpson has run into political opposition to his plan at home. 

The Idaho Senate adopted the memorial opposing dam removal via a 28-6 vote on March 9.

In February, Republican Gov. Brad Little put out a statement opposing removing the dams.

“I remain unconvinced that breaching the dams is a silver bullet for salmon recovery,” Little said Feb. 18. “Breaching the dams would have devastating impacts on Idahoans and vital segments of Idaho’s economy.” 

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Clark Corbin
Clark Corbin

Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. He has covered every Idaho legislative session since 2011 gavel-to-gavel. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun he reported for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Idaho Education News. His reporting in Idaho has helped uncover a multimillion-dollar investment scam and exposed inaccurate data that school districts submitted to the state.