For nearly three decades, we’ve been grappling with diminishing salmon runs, and these fish are running out of time. Now, thanks to Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, our hopes for the future soar as we contemplate a proposal that combines salmon recovery with true infrastructure modernization for regions that have been left behind, like here in the Yakima Valley, Lewiston-Clarkston and the Tri-Cities.
Rep. Simpson’s Columbia Basin Fund is a bold plan, offering the region a comprehensive infrastructure investment package. A Republican from a conservative state, Simpson is pushing back on political gridlock to propose a broad plan that contains the necessary funding for forward-looking investments for the Northwest. We not only stand to update and modernize our regional energy grid, upgrade irrigation and transportation infrastructure for agriculture needs, and create jobs, but to restore our valuable fisheries too.
The fund lays the groundwork for the largest river restoration and salmon recovery effort in history. It outlines the restoration of a free-flowing lower Snake River. Understandably, for some, this feels risky. Yet as a fisherman who also comes from a farming family, I think the Columbia Basin Fund makes a lot of sense.
Columbia Basin dams have driven the prosperity of our region, providing energy, transportation and irrigation. Much of this important infrastructure is over 50 years old. This is why this proposed package is a game-changer. It’s a comprehensive approach to modernizing the benefits of the river to our rural, agricultural community.
Simpson has outlined funding priorities to upgrade our regional infrastructure, ensure crops are irrigated and provide rail and transportation upgrades to get harvests to market. This is a blueprint to help the region’s energy and agricultural sectors come out stronger.
In the Pacific Northwest, there are approximately 34,000 jobs serving 2 million anglers annually. Nearly 950,000 anglers spent $1.5 billion while fishing in Washington state alone. Restoring the Snake River, where 70% of the remaining salmon habitat in the Columbia River watershed remains, and with much of it in pristine condition, will allow us to pass on our fishing culture for generations to come.
Looking at a cost-benefit analysis, the lower Snake River dams provide 4% of the region’s energy yet will cost $245 million every year for the next 30 years just in maintenance. Imagine if we were to put that money toward growing the economy of Eastern Washington instead.
In addition to the broad infrastructure upgrades, the Columbia Basin Fund includes a vision for tourism and other outdoor recreation opportunities. Add that to $700 million to upgrade an aging hatchery infrastructure so we can get these fish runs off life support.
We would never support the removal of the lower Snake River dams if those who rely on them for energy, transportation and agriculture weren’t taken care of as well. The Columbia River Fund tackles this head on. Most important, Simpson’s vision takes us forward. It takes the question of the Snake River dams out of the hands of federal agencies, where it has stalled for two decades, and puts it in the hands of Congress, where it belongs.
Simpson aims to put the entire Northwest on a path toward greater prosperity. We need to support him. So do our elected representatives. I hope our state senators will consider this proposal, help improve it and ensure it advances in Congress. Working together, everyone can move forward together.