Confidential Memo Outlines Federal Government Plans To Mitigate Breaching Of Snake River Dams

Published online: Nov 30, 2023 News Family Farm Alliance
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Washington, D.C. – A confidential draft mediation document released today by four members of Congress outlines steps the U.S. Government (USG) will take to mitigate the breaching of four Lower Snake River dams, albeit recognizing the Congress would need to authorize actual dam removal. 

“While this USG response does not constitute a decision by the USG to support legislation to authorize dam breaching, the USG continues to be committed to exploring restoration of the Lower Snake River, including dam breach,” the November 2, 2023 draft memo states. “To that end, the USG is prepared to deliver the commitments below, in partnership with the Six Sovereigns and other stakeholders in the region.” 

The Six Sovereigns include the State of Oregon, State of Washington, Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation.

The draft confidential memo was released by Reps. Dan Newhouse (R-WASHINGTON), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WASHINGTON), Cliff Bentz (R-OREGON) and Russ Fulcher (R-IDAHO), who have sent a letter to President Biden raising numerous questions about provisions in the document that require clarification. 

“As best we can tell, this document reflects the negotiating positions of the U.S. Government (USG) in the long-standing mediation concerning the Columbia River System Operations (CRSO),” the letter states. “Due to the document’s use of vague and imprecise language, it appears susceptible to misinterpretation.”

CLICK HERE for the complete Congressional press release. 

In a joint statement, the executive directors of Northwest RiverPartners, the Public Power Council, and the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association expressed extreme concern about the transparency of this process and the USG Commitments’ impacts on millions of Northwesterners. 

“Instead of working with all interests, the US Government chose for months to hold secret negotiations and refused to share any details with us, let alone allow our participation,” the groups stated. “It is not surprising, then, that this proposal turns its back on over three million electricity customers as well as the farming, transportation, navigation, and economic needs of the region. By purposely excluding our respective organizations from the negotiations, literally millions of Northwest residents were deprived of fair representation in this process.”

CLICK HERE for “Secrets agreement between U.S. government and anti-hydro plaintiff groups represents 'Greatest Threat' for the region”. 
The Family Farm Alliance last April transmitted this letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, requesting Biden Administration Cabinet-level intervention in ongoing mediation talks involving the Lower Snake River dams.

Western Farmer-Stockman in April also ran this guest editorial by Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen explaining why Pacific Northwest ag interests should be better integrated into the river talks.

“Altering operations along the Columbia and Lower Snake Rivers, whether through shifted flow regimes or dam removal, would send ripple effects throughout the broader agricultural community served by this system,” said Mr. Keppen. “The multiple-year drought we have faced in many parts of the West – coupled with other domestic and global developments – has already affected the availability and price of food for many Americans.”

A panel discussion on the Lower Snake River dams – featuring water, farming, transportation, and navigation experts from the Pacific Northwest – is on the agenda of the 2024 Family Farm Alliance annual conference, February 22-23, 2024 in Reno, Nevada. Go to for registration and other conference details.