Last week, I released for discussion a concept that could end the Northwest salmon wars. It would lock in a more certain future for agriculture, energy, transportation and communities and also give Idaho’s wild salmon and steelhead their best chance for survival.

Mike Simpson mug cropped

Mike Simpson mug cropped

Rep. Mike Simpson

Rep. Mike Simpson

Without question, the four Lower Snake River dams are very beneficial and valuable. They provide low-cost, clean, on-demand energy. They allow barges to reach ports in Lewiston-Clarkston providing low-cost shipping so that our growers are not captive to rail and trucking. Our communities benefit from ports, economic development and recreation.

I want to make it clear that if these dams are removed, then all stakeholders must be provided with resources to replace the benefits they currently receive from them. In three years of studying this issue and over 300 meetings with stakeholders, I have come to believe that it would cost at least $33.5 billion to replace these benefits.

To protect energy and the communities my concept would:

— Require that power from the 4-LSRDs be replaced prior to dam removal in 2030.

— Lock-in all federal and private dams greater than 5 megawatts in the Columbia, Snake and Willamette basins for 35-50 years, stopping environmental lawsuits from going after other productive dams.

— Ban all salmon litigation against these same dams in the Columbia, Snake and Willamette basin under the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act for 35 years.

— Provide new missions and economic partnerships in advanced energy storage for the Tri-Cities and Lewiston-Clarkston.

To protect agriculture, the concept proposes:

— A $3 billion, 25-year voluntary watershed program between agriculture, conservationists and tribes to improve and enhance water quality, temperature and quantity in the Columbia Basin.

— All farmers voluntarily participating in the watershed program will be exempt from the Clean Water Act and ESA lawsuits for the length of the program.

— $400 million to the Northwest land grant universities for animal nutrient (waste) management processes.

— $1.2 billion to the Columbia, Snake and Willamette basins for animal nutrient management incentives to dairies and confined animal operations.

— $750 million to the Lower Snake River Corridor irrigators so they can reconfigure, re-engineer and extend pipes and deepen wells.

— $1.5 billion for the Palouse/Idaho grain farmers that utilize the Snake River ports so they can reconfigure/adjust their transportation options or create new opportunities.

— $300 million to Lower Snake River corridor shippers (coops, handlers, elevators) so they can reconfigure/adjust their operations.

— $200 million to the Lower Snake River Corridor Ports including Lewiston-Clarkston and Wilma.

— $1 billion for the Snake River bargers for economic adjustment.

— $600 million to the Tri-Cities Ports so they can expand their operations as a regional hub with an emphasis on creating a greater barging volume of agriculture commodities on the Columbia River than exists today.

— A program that provides funding and legal indemnification to ditch districts or small energy entities to remove abandoned or non-functioning irrigation structures or dams.

In 1988 as the spotted owl wars were beginning to heat up, timber mill owners, communities and families were saying “hell no” in unison. At that time, none of us could have comprehended the devastation that judges and an administration would cause our Northwest communities within a few short years. “Hell no” is easy and popular until the day outside forces pick the winners and losers.

I am aware that saying yes is much harder. It is a leap of faith. But it would be a tragedy if future generations looked back and wished that the current Northwest leaders and stakeholders would have at least taken the time to explore this opportunity.

One of the reasons I believe this concept is worthy of review is because I am making it very clear that agriculture matters. So I am asking the Northwest delegation, governors, tribes and stakeholders if we can roll up our sleeves and come together to find a solution to save our salmon, protect our stakeholders and reset our energy system for the next 50-plus years on our terms? And at the same time, we can achieve a long-term solution that would provide certainty, security and legal protections for farmers in the Northwest. I believe we owe it to future generations to try.