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Region’s Top Scientists To Gov. Inslee: Remove Lower Snake River Dams To Save Local Orcas

Nicholas K. Geranios
AP Photo
In this April 11, 2018 photo, water moves through a spillway of the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River near Almota, Wash. It's one of four dams on the Lower Snake that leading orca scientists want removed to save the endangered killer whale species.

Gov. Jay Inslee has received a letter from the region’s leading killer whale scientists, calling for the removal of four dams on the Lower Snake river.

The letter comes as the governor's Orca Recovery Task Force gets ready to meet later this week. It's signed by six of the top scientists in the region who study impediments to local Orca survival.

They say more Chinook salmon are needed on a year-round basis and that removing the Lower Snake River dams would quickly and permanently restore Chinook access to more than 5,000 miles of already intact upstream habitat.

The scientists also want an immediate increase in spill rates over the dams, to help the fish.

They’re asking the task force to recommend these steps to the governor  and say they believe that Southern Resident Orca survival and recovery may be impossible without them. 

Removal of the Lower Snake River Dams has been debated for decades, with fish advocates pushing the idea and agricultural and energy interests resisting it. The dams are used for hydropower, irrigation and barging.

The letter follows the deaths of three southern resident Orcas this summer, leaving just 74 in the wild. The species was listed as endangered under federal law in 2006, and some scientists warn it's on the verge of going extinct.

Successful reproduction has been an issue, with many miscarriages and the death of a baby orca just a half hour after its birth this summer, after which its mother pushed the corpse in the water for an unprecedented 17 days, garnering international media attention.

The scientists believe the lack of the orcas' preferred food, Chinook salmon, exposes them to the effects of toxics stored in their blubber when they metabolize it instead of getting nourishment externally.

The task force meets Wednesday and Thursday in Tacoma, with a public hearing on Wednesday night, from 5 -8 p.m.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to