New Proposal To Breach Snake River Dams Sparks Opposition

Barging interests, the wheat growers who depend on barge transportation and businesses in the Pacific Northwest who benefit from cheap, clean hydropower are among those are reacting to a proposal by Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson to breach the four Lower Snake River dams as part of a $32 billion “Columbia Basin Fund” for “economic transition.” The proposal comes one month after the Corps of Engineers released a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) declining to breach the dams. 

Simpson’s plan has been reported in multiple media outlets and is said to be still under development. Part of the fund’s purpose would be to compensate residents of the region who would lose transportation and/or hydropower benefits if the dams are permanently breached. 

Demolishing the four dams has been a long-term goal of conservationists concerned about plummeting populations of salmon  and species that depend on them, like orcas. On January 19, ten environmental and fishing groups filed their eighth supplemental complaint in a lawsuit over Columbia River System operations first filed 20 years ago. The latest complaint asks a federal judge to throw out the 2020 Columbia River System Operations EIS, record of decision and Biological Opinion published by the Corps.

PNWA: ‘Extreme Measure’

The Pacific Northwest Waterways Association said in a statement, “PNWA appreciates that Rep. Simpson has highlighted two issues in this plan on which almost everyone in the Pacific Northwest can agree: commitment of real dollars for salmon recovery, and increased utilization of renewable, carbon-free energy to combat climate change.

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“However, funding for salmon recovery and new energy technologies should not be tied to an extreme measure like breaching the Snake River dams, which provide over 95 percent effective fish passage and are a critical part of the region’s energy portfolio. These dams also make possible fuel-efficient, low-carbon, safe and reliable barge transportation. “

PNWA Executive Director Kristin Meira said, “This plan would remove highly functional run-of-river dams with world-class fish passage that provide fundamental benefits like clean energy and efficient commerce to our region and put the region on track for higher carbon emissions and an increase in climate change. It is not a responsible use of taxpayer dollars, and ultimately is a disservice to our fish.”

Steve Shaver, president of Shaver Transportation Company, said, “Shaver Transportation strongly opposes Congressman Simpson’s proposal to breach the four Lower Snake River dams. This proposal would not only impact jobs and goods movement from the inland empire to our partners overseas but would significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions by moving cargo from barge to rail and truck, all with limited known benefits to our regional salmon runs.”

Joseph Anderson, chairman of the Idaho Wheat Commission, said, “We’re proud to grow the best quality wheat you’ll find anywhere. But we can’t feed the world if we can’t get it to market. The existence of barging as a transportation mode helps to discipline rail and trucking rates, ensuring that the price of moving goods in the Pacific Northwest remains competitive. Without barging, Idaho wheat growers are severely disadvantaged. Multiple modes of transportation to Portland help us better serve our customers and be regarded as a reliable supplier throughout the world.”

Mike Carstensens, chairman of the Washington Grains Commission, also weighed in. “Removing four Snake River dams flies in the face of reality for salmon, is illogical from an environmental perspective and hurts industry and communities. Only four of the 13 ESA listed salmon runs even swim past the Lower Snake River dams, and they do so with over 95 percent transit survival. Removing them does not solve the salmon issue. Eliminating the dams does remove [barge] navigation, the most environmentally friendly, safest and most reliable mode of transporting wheat to market. It also removes clean renewable hydropower and increases carbon. We oppose such moves in the wrong direction for salmon, the environment and the wheat industry.”