The Pacific Northwest has suffered many decades of frustration over how to save salmon and responsibly operate federal power dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. Now, sparked by a proposal from U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, we’ve arrived at a moment of political opportunity to move forward. We should seize it.

Bonneville Power Administrator John Hairston’s recent Op-Ed in The Times (“Preserve hydropower’s role in clean-energy future,” Opinion, March 28) articulated the economic and environmental importance of our hydro system but glossed over this opportunity. He should embrace it.

We are on the cusp of a decade of massive transformation in our energy system and rapidly increasing impacts of climate change. A modernized, flexible, reliable Northwest power grid backed by hydropower and other clean-energy resources is essential to meet that challenge.

New state and national policies are placing an increasing premium on flexibility and integration of our electricity grid, in the Northwest and across the West. The easier it becomes to manage demand and incorporate new renewable resources into our transmission grid, the more we will be able to meet peak demand and stabilize our power supply across a range of conditions. 

 These conditions include the advancing effects of climate change. Changing seasonal patterns and more extreme weather events will test in new ways BPA’s ability to manage the power it markets — power mostly produced from federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.  

At the same time, these effects of climate change will take an increasing toll on already endangered salmon that spawn and migrate in the Columbia-Snake River basin. Even now, reservoirs behind the dams on the Lower Snake River overheat in the summer, sometimes for weeks on end, to levels lethal to salmon, as reported by The Times. 


And it is not only salmon and salmon-dependent southern resident orcas that suffer. Northwest tribes for whom salmon are a way of life face the untenable prospect of a future without salmon. Commercial fishermen, coastal and upriver communities, and everyone who enjoys fishing throughout our region have also been hit hard. 

All this adds uncertainty to the future costs of protecting these species and BPA’s ability to manage its own financial future. Over four decades, BPA and other federal agencies have already spent more than $17 billion to protect salmon and have so far failed to show sustained, positive results. We need another approach.

Rep. Simpson, a Republican, has set out one vision for the way forward. His comprehensive concept would invest billions of dollars in infrastructure to modernize BPA, develop new clean-energy generation and, despite removing the earthen berms adjacent to all four Lower Snake River dams to let the river run free, preserve more than 95% of regional hydropower. It would give Snake River salmon their best shot at returning to abundance, while providing resources for all of our communities to prosper, too. His proposal is not perfect; it needs more work. But it contains the components of a workable, comprehensive solution and a commitment to action that can secure a vigorous new future for BPA, for salmon and for all of us in the Lower Snake region and the Northwest as a whole. 

It’s time to leave behind the status quo of extraordinarily expensive, failed federal salmon recovery plans that the courts have consistently rejected. It’s time to work with Rep. Simpson and other elected leaders like U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Derek Kilmer and U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and other Northwest members of Congress, to refine and transform a strong concept into legislation that will move us toward a future of which we can all be proud. We urge BPA Administrator Hairston to put the full weight of BPA into this effort now. We and others are eager to move forward with him.