The Snake River flowing through Idaho, Washington, and Idaho has topped the annual list of endangered U.S. rivers. The annual list has featured Snake River 12 times, with 2021 its first year in the number one spot. The river has a long history of salmon fishing that once made it an integral part of the Pacific Northwest culture. Four dams have been built along the river, turning it from a salmon run to four stagnant reservoirs. In response to the state of the river, Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho tabled a $33 billion plan to clean up the waterway.
The American Rivers group has been producing its annual report for 36 years, with Snake River featuring in the top 10 list 12 times. Snake River has played a vital role in the success of the Pacific Northwest since before the arrival of European settlers. Local Native American tribes have fished the Snake River and used it as a line of communication for centuries until four dams were installed. The four dams have changed the face of the waterway and limited the number of salmon moving upstream each year.
Rep. Simpson’s plan offers more than just the breaching of the four dams. The project would include a major investment in the infrastructure of the Pacific Northwest to replace the lost hydroelectricity produced by the dams. Simpson’s plan has been back in its initial stages by American Rivers because it would provide an upgrade in transportation and irrigation for residents of Lower Snake River.
Before the drive to dam Snake River for electricity purposes began, the river was known for its 140 miles of beautiful landscapes. The decision to install four dams along the Snake River had a devastating ecological effect on the Pacific Northwest. The dams have blocked the traditional runs of salmon and robbed indigenous people of their heritage and culture for decades. Simpson’s plan would become a blueprint for returning rivers to their natural position, with Idaho’s Snake and Columbia Rivers requiring salmon to navigate eight dams on a 900-mile journey to their traditional spawning grounds.
People in the local communities are benefitting from the four dams along the Snake River and feel the conservative politician is not considering their needs. The damming of the Snake River provided the first reliable electricity supply for some communities in Idaho and Washington. Others have benefitted from barge farming and the leisure industry that has grown over the last few decades.
The American Rivers list of endangered waterways considers several factors when making decisions. The group considers how the loss of the traditional river habitat affects the local community and the quality of water for its wildlife. American Rivers is backing the controversial dam breaching project and has found success in saving waterways in the past. The endangered rivers list has put pressure on politicians and state governments to alter their plans for waterways in the past. The latest list of endangered rivers includes the Lower Missouri River in the second position. American Rivers explains climate change has devastated the waterway and needs immediate action to update its management system.