Dan Newhouse

Congressman Dan Newhouse

Last week, the West Point Treatment Plant in Seattle dumped 11 million gallons of raw sewage into Puget Sound. This wastewater is dangerous to families and communities, and it is also harmful to our species that inhabit the Puget Sound, including native salmon species and southern resident orcas.

Unfortunately, this is just the latest incident in a series of catastrophic sewage spills that have occurred in the past few years in Puget Sound. Salmon have been found contaminated with cocaine and Prozac, and mussels are testing positive for opioids. If this is what is happening to our marine life in the Sound, can you imagine the threat these spills pose to the overall health of our ecosystem? It is no wonder the species in our nation’s largest estuary are facing extinction.

Yet, instead of focusing on their own backyard when it comes to salmon and orca recovery efforts, leaders and self-proclaimed “environmentalists” in Western Washington point fingers by hyper-focusing on tearing down Central and Eastern Washington’s dams.

Every few months, a group of mostly Seattle-based environmental scientists send a letter to Congress calling for the removal of the federal dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers in order to protect Washington’s native salmon and orca species. I reject these calls because their views are rooted in a partisan, ideological approach – not a scientific, solutions-oriented one.

If one storm, in the wettest region of the country, can send millions of gallons of waste into the Puget Sound, it is clear that significant improvements are necessary to improve Seattle’s wastewater infrastructure. This fact, and any substantive attempt to address it, remains absent from their calls to action.

Last year, I spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives to urge a comprehensive, science-based look at salmon and orca recovery. I called out the hypocrisy of my colleagues from the west side and asked them to take a hard look in their own backyards – at factors in and around the natural habitats of Washington’s salmon and orca species that are affecting their populations.

Breaching or removing the dams that provide countless benefits to the communities and economy of Central and Eastern Washington is not the answer. We need responsible solutions – not hyperbolic ones from misguided and radical environmentalists. So long as I am serving in Congress, no one will be tearing down our dams.

Governor Inslee wasted $750,000 of state taxpayer dollars on an inconclusive study that focused solely on effects of our dam infrastructure on salmon species, which found what we already know to be true: breaching the dams is divisive. The federal Environmental Impact Statement, conducted over several years by federal agencies who own and operate the dams, found that the benefits of the dams are too precious for our region to go without.

We must continue addressing all impacts – not just those that are politically or regionally convenient. From species management efforts to control populations of predatory sea lions to continued innovation at our hydroelectric dams to improve the 93% fish passage rates like those we are seeing at Ice Harbor Dam and others, we are doing our part.

Now, it’s time for Seattle to do theirs.

Our Native salmon species and the southern resident orcas hold a strong cultural and historical significance to the Pacific Northwest, and they are critical to our region’s ecosystem. We must devote our resources to real solutions that will improve conditions, aid in recovery, and ensure healthy populations for generations to come.

Congressman Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside serves the 4th Congressional District in Washington, D.C.

(2) comments


From a recent King County Executive speech: Over the next decade, King County is on track to invest over $9 billion in water-quality improvements — including nearly $7 billion for upgrading pumps, backup generators and electrical equipment at five sewage treatment plants and 47 pump stations.

Driven by federal and state regulations, the remaining $2 1/2 billion will be used to treat stormwater that enters our system - but not much more stormwater than we currently handle.

I tasked our King County water scientists with exploring whether we could get a much larger environmental benefit by first taking on the much greater volume of stormwater that never gets into the system - the contaminated rainwater that flows directly into the Green River, Lake Washington, Puget Sound and other waterways — slowly poisoning them.

If we do nothing about this uncontrolled runoff, regardless of our other investments, the orcas and salmon will go extinct before our eyes.


Nice fake, Congressman: "Seattle should work on its own problems." Seattle has been doing exactly that, spending hundreds of millions of dollars, over many decades, to try to improve water quality in Puget Sound. Perhaps you remember when Lake Washington was unswimmable? It's a thorny problem, as one finds when looking at any coastal city. Seattle's ongoing efforts are no reason why its citizens (and others in WA) should stay mum about other important salmon- and orca-related issues, like the devastation to salmon stocks caused by the Lower Snake dams.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.