Consultants hired by the State of Washington to explore the impacts of breaching four lower Snake River dams expect to release a draft report in mid-December.

The release will initiate a public process that includes an online survey and public workshops.

The Lower Snake River Dams Stakeholder Process is the result of a recommendation by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force, which sought further investigation into the impacts of removing or breaching the dams as a way to provide more salmon as orca prey. The state Legislature provided $750,000 in its 2019-2021 budget to complete the process.

The report will not offer recommendations about dam breaching, but is expected to help inform state agencies prior to the February 2020 release of a draft environmental impact statement that will evaluate operations at the four dams and potential impacts of removing them.

The online survey, which will remain open until 5 p.m. on Jan. 24, asks respondents to either agree or disagree with statements about the impact of lower Snake River dams on agriculture, transportation, energy, salmon and steelhead, stream ecology, tribal and cultural resources, recreation and the economy.

The survey then asks whether breaching or retaining the dams will have a significant or small positive or negative impact, or have no impact on each of those subjects.

"There are significantly different predictions of the benefits of breaching/removing the LSRD on the Snake River salmon and steelhead returning adults that range from a fourfold increase in returning Snake River salmon/steelhead to a smaller percent increase," the survey’s statement about salmon and steelhead says.

The report is being developed by consulting firms Ross Strategic, Kramer Consulting, White Bluffs Consulting and Anchor QEA, which have been working since September to interview stakeholders and groups, and to review and summarize existing documents and reports on dam removal (CU No. 1919 [7.2]).

Public workshops will be held Jan. 7 in Clarkston; Jan. 9 in Vancouver; and Jan. 13 in the Tri-Cities. The workshops—which will be conducted after the release of the draft report—will involve panel members with different interests to provide perspective on the draft report. They won't provide time for spoken public comment, but people will be encouraged to submit any such written comments.

A final report will be completed and submitted to Inslee and the Legislature in early March.

K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.