McMorris Rodgers Visits Ice Harbor Dam, Underscores Importance of Columbia-Snake River System at Field Hearing

“Without them, we are in big trouble.”

Richland, Wash. – On Monday, Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) traveled to the Tri-Cities to tour Ice Harbor Dam with Representatives Dan Newhouse (WA-04), Mike Collins (GA-10), and Cliff Bentz (OR-02).

Ice Harbor is one of the four Lower Snake River dams that helped transform Eastern and Central Washington from a dry, barren sagebrush to one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. Together, these dams generate over 1,000 megawatts on average, which is enough to power over 800,000 homes.

During their tour, the lawmakers saw the many investments in innovative technology that has made this dam nearly transparent to fish, including two fish ladders, a removable spillway, and a bypass facility that help salmon to migrate the river. Click here to watch Cathy’s remarks at the press conference after the tour.

Excerpts and highlights are below.

“This dam is one of the four Lower Snake River dams that is part of the beating heart of our region – the Columbia Snake River System. It transformed this region that was dry, barren sagebrush into one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. 

“It makes it possible for farmers here in Eastern Washington to send their products – wheat, apples, potatoes – all across America and to countries around the world. 

“It has strengthened our energy grid, lowered energy costs for our families and businesses – we have some of the lowest energy costs in the country – all while reducing carbon emissions.

“Over the years, we’ve invested in fish ladders, fish slides, and improved technology of our turbines. Ice Harbor has not just one but two fish ladders, a spillway, and a bypass facility to help salmon migrate the river – and these efforts are working.

“It’s time that we take the target off the dams and shift the conversation towards getting results. 

While we’re at it, we need to get Governor Inslee to stop dumping toxic waste into the Puget Sound – and let’s get some fish passage at Hells Canyon Dam.

“Together, I know that we can get to where we need to be. But first we need to accept that the dams aren’t the problem, and breaching the dams is not the solution.

Cathy and her colleagues then traveled to Richland High School where the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries hosted a hearing entitled, “The Northwest at Risk: The Environmentalist’s Effort to Destroy Navigation, Transportation, and Access to Reliable Power.”

This hearing focused on the benefits the Lower Snake River dams provide to Eastern Washington and the entire Pacific Northwest, including irrigation, navigation, flood control, and access to reliable and affordable hydropower. The following witnesses provided testimony and answered questions:

  • Jennifer Quan, West Coast Regional Administrator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • John Hairston, Administrator and CEO for Bonneville Power Administration
  • Beth Coffey, Director of Programs for theNorthwestern Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • Scott Corbitt, General Manager for the Port of Lewiston
  • Rick Dunn, General Manager for Benton Public Utility District
  • Michelle Hennings, Executive Director for Washington Association of Wheat Growers
  • Alex McGregor, Chairman of the Board of Directors for The McGregor Company
  • Todd Myers, Environmental Director for the Washington Policy Center
  • David Welch, President and Founder of Kintama Research Services

Click here to watch Cathy’s opening remarks. You can also watch the full hearing here.

Below are Cathy’s remarks as prepared for delivery:


Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is good to be here on the ground talking about the Lower Snake River dams with the people whose livelihoods depend on them.

Each and every person on this panel has a story to tell about the benefits of the Lower Snake River dams. They and the groups they represent  must be part of any debate over the future of our river system.

Unfortunately, these conversations are already happening at the highest levels of government, including President Biden, and I am concerned the voices of everyone here are not being heard. 

Today, your voices will be heard loud and clear. 


Today is about facts. 

The Lower Snake River Dams have the capacity to generate 3,000 megawatts of reliable, clean electricity to power our homes and businesses.

Without them, we are in big trouble.

Last September, California experienced an energy crisis. Governor Newsom begged residents to stop using air conditioning and turn off the lights.

With blackouts imminent, our dams generated 16,000 megawatt hours of energy that we sold to California to prevent a catastrophe.

They also came to the rescue when Chief Joseph Dam failed during a deep freeze in February 2021 when they generated more than 1,600 megawatts of electricity to keep the lights on – and during the summer heat dome event, dams held 15% of BPA’s total required reserves. 

In all of these instances, the Lower Snake River dams saved lives. And that’s just on the energy front. The role these dams play in feeding the world cannot be overstated.

Sixty percent of all wheat exports from the Pacific Northwest move through the dams, making the river system the third largest export corridor in the world, sending wheat from the United States to more than 20 countries across the Pacific Rim. 

Washington’s wheat farmers have a legacy of feeding the world – a legacy we cannot put at risk.


Barging on the Snake River allows farmers to move grain and other products efficiently, saving millions of dollars per year and reducing carbon emissions.

Without barging through the dams, we’d need an additional 538 semi-trucks on the road to move the wheat that is carried by just one, four-barge tow.

Imagine what that would mean for all of the wheat barged on the river.

The economic benefits are also huge. 

Without barging, farmers would see the value of their products – wheat, barley, potatoes, beans, onions – go down, and the loss of jobs and economic activity would be felt across the board.


Let me be clear: I share the goal of protecting and restoring salmon runs on the river system.

I want my kids and grandkids to know what salmon represent in our region.

The Lower Snake River dams are an easy target, but they are not the problem, and breaching them is not the solution. 

Like we saw this morning at Ice Harbor, these dams have best-in-class fish passage technology and fish-friendly turbines. They are almost invisible to migrating salmon.

What’s not invisible is the overpopulation of sea lions that feast on adult salmon returning to the Snake to spawn. The birds that prey on juvenile salmon on their way to the ocean. The tons of toxic sewage being dumped into Puget Sound that is literally suffocating the most important salmon for the Orcas.   

These and other factors like ocean conditions, habitat loss, and dams with no fish passage at all are the things we need to be focused on in order to get results.


And speaking of results, salmon returns on the Lower Snake River have made encouraging gains since 2019! 

Last year, Spring Chinook returns were 31% above the 10-year average.

This year, Chinook got off to a late start, so we are watching those returns closely. But wild steelhead returns are double what we saw this time last year!

Our focus needs to be on results, which starts with investing our resources to get a better understanding of what is happening to salmon in the ocean, controlling predators, addressing unchecked pollution, and restoring habitats.

We must focus on science and facts. Only then can we accomplish our shared goal.


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