BOISE, Idaho — Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho's second district has unveiled a plan to breach four dams on the lower Snake River in an effort to help the salmon and steelhead return to Idaho.
Over the past three years, Simpson has conducted more than 300 meetings with different stakeholders, and the Republican Congressman proposes the first plan that looks at the value of these four dams.
Because of that Simpson's plan to save the salmon comes with a hefty price tag of $33.5 billion.
"It's massive, most people will call it the biggest restoration project in the world," said Simpson. "That's why it costs so much, and that is why people are upset about it."
A closer look at the proposal shows that breaching the dams in the year 2030 or 2031 would cost an estimated $2.3 billion to remove berms and sediment, leaving behind the concrete structures and putting in place mitigation and restoration efforts.
Most of the money in the proposal would go towards replacing and storing energy and power, helping farmers with irrigation and transportation needs, compensating the barges and making sure communities on the river like Lewiston stay whole.
The proposal would also extend the hydro-electric contracts for the four dams on the Columbia River. Simpson believes this will end a non-stop legal battle on the dams.
"It recognizes the value of the hydro system in the northwest," said Simpson. "It would end the salmon wars for at least 35 years."
In addition, the proposal would include grants for universities in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington to develop ways to convert animal waste into bioenergy with incentives for businesses to implement such measures.
The proposal also features watershed restoration and habitat improvement for salmon while also funding recreation and tourism opportunities.
"I'm hoping people will sit back and take a thoughtful look at this and say what is the value of the dams," said Simpson. "Can we do it? Can we imagine a different future for the Pacific Northwest?"
So far, $17 billion has been spent on salmon restoration, and it hasn't worked. $ 33.5 billion is a large number, but Simpson hopes his plan will get funded through President Biden's infrastructure and clean energy plan.
"Is 34 billion dollars too much for the Pacific Northwest to improve our infrastructure? I don't think so," said Simpson.
But perhaps the most critical question remains, will removing these four dams bring the salmon back to their spawning grounds in Idaho?
Several factors, including ocean conditions, predators, harvesting, rising water temperatures and the dams all contribute to the dwindling number of salmon who make it back to the Salmon River.
"I can't promise everybody that this will restore salmon," said Simpson. "I believe it will, but I can't promise that what I can promise is if we don't take those dams out, these runs in Idaho will go extinct."