Groups on both sides of the debate on whether to remove four lower Snake River dams have turned up the heat on their public opinion campaigns in the weeks before Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are expected to release a draft report analyzing if there are reasonable means to replace benefits of the dams.

The draft report—which was expected in late May—has yet to be released.

On May 3, Northwest RiverPartners launched an advertising campaign to support protecting the dams. The ads highlight the role the dams play in reducing carbon emissions and providing consistent and reliable power.

Also on May 3, environmental and tribal groups began a Spirit of the Waters Totem Pole Journey through Washington and Oregon supporting the removal of the Snake River dams.

Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, said in a news release that the only practical way to replace power generated by the dams is to burn more coal and natural gas. Even if the dams were replaced with wind and solar power with batteries for backup, an added 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide would be emitted each year, he said, adding, "We simply cannot achieve our carbon reductions timeline and maintain a reliable electricity grid without the lower Snake River dams."

Rick Dunn, GM of Benton PUD, said reliability is at stake. "During the extreme temperatures of last year's heat dome event, all electric utilities in the Tri-Cities were put on notice localized blackouts could become necessary," he said.

The totem pole journey features a traveling orca totem resting on two salmon, created by Lummi Nation carvers. Events in 10 communities from May 3-20 are designed to engage people throughout the region "in support of the indigenous-led movement to remove the Snake River dams and restore the health of the Snake River and its salmon, and the orca that depend on them," the website states.

Columbia Riverkeeper also sent a petition with more than 1,000 signatures asking President Joe Biden and Northwest senators to enact a plan to remove the dams before the end of 2022. "The science is clear: the four Lower Snake River dams make the river too hot for salmon, and dam removal is our last best chance to prevent the extinction of salmon and orcas while honoring Tribal rights and leadership," the petition states.

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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.