Interior casts critical eye on Columbia River dams

By Jennifer Yachnin | 06/20/2024 01:33 PM EDT

A report issued by the Interior Department looked at how struggling salmon and steelhead populations affect tribal nations.

Ice Harbor Lock and Dam.

Ice Harbor Lock and Dam on the Lower Snake River near Burbank, Washington. Jeff T. Green/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration this week detailed the “devastating impact” that 11 federal dams in the Columbia River Basin inflicted on Native American tribes in the region, in a first look at how its agencies could pursue efforts — including the breaching of dams — to restore salmon and steelhead populations.

The Interior Department on Tuesday issued the report as part of a $1 billion settlement agreement in a long-running federal lawsuit over hydropower operations on the Snake and Columbia rivers. Tribal nations with rights to access and use the rivers have argued that the dams decimated Pacific Northwest salmon and steelhead populations, along with other species.

“Acknowledging the devastating impact of federal hydropower dams on Tribal communities is essential to our efforts to heal and ensure that salmon are restored to their ancestral waters,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.


The Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative, as the agreement is formally known, includes the Nez Perce, Yakama, Warm Springs and Umatilla tribal nations, as well as the states of Oregon and Washington.