Unsustainable: the new economics of the lower Snake River dams

blog 120131 Port of Lewiston 3The lower Snake River dams were originally conceived to establish a 140-mile shipping corridor that would connect to the Columbia River and create an inland seaport in Lewiston, Idaho. The dams’ energy capacity was added late in the planning process by the Army Corps of Engineers to increase the project’s overall economic benefit and improve the chances of Congressional approval - and appropriations.

While the dams’ anticipated impacts on salmon and steelhead populations was held understood - they were opposed at the time by all Northwest state’s fish and game departments - the net positive economic benefit asserted by the Army Corps went largely unchallenged in the 1960s. More recently, however, steeply declining salmon populations, a series of expensive, ineffective and illegal federal salmon plans, a determined lack of transparency by the federal dam agencies, and the rapidly changing market forces in the energy and transportation sectors has attracted new scrutiny about these four dams overall costs and benefits. Independent observers and a series of reports in recent years makes it increasingly difficult to justify further investment in these high-cost, low-value dams on the lower Snake.

Built last century, the four lower Snake River dams produce less than 1,000 aMW of electricity each year - about 4 percent of the Northwest’s supply. More recently, the cost of wind and solar has plummeted, the capacity from renewables expanded, and the regional electric grid is rapidly evolving. We’ve become much smarter about how we generate, consume, and manage electricity.

Our region, for example, has recently developed 2,500+ average megawatts (aMW) from wind, solar, geothermal and biomass energy - with more currently under construction. And we’ve saved 5,500+ aMW of electricity in the last several decades through smart investments in energy efficiency. While the cost of renewables has plunged, the cost of maintaining and operating these four aging federal dams is steadily rising.

Trends on the transportation corridor are similar: decreasing demand and increasing costs. Shipping on the lower Snake River has declined by 70% in the last two decades. Private/public investments are expanding rail networks locally and helped facilitate a shift by many farmers and other businesses to transport their products by train rather than barge.

Our greatest asset is our ingenuity and ability to adapt. We don't have to choose between wild salmon, affordable low-carbon energy and reliable transportation. Working together, the people of the Northwest and the nation can craft a lawful, scientifically- and economically-sound plan that restores our wild salmon and meets the energy and transportation needs of the region’s communities.

Lewiston Morning Tribune: Short lines - tall orders

Grain TrainWatco Companies VP oversees rail lines serving north central Idaho and southeastern Washington

By Elaine Williams
July 15, 2017

One of the biggest questions in the debate about removing the four lower Snake River dams is whether rail could haul the grain that's now barged to Portland and transferred onto ocean-going vessels headed to the Pacific Rim.

The answer is a qualified yes, said Ted Kadau, vice president-commercial of Watco Companies, the largest short-line rail company serving the region.

Watco would move grain out of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, Palouse and Camas Prairie, if necessary, Kadau said. "But we also understand that the river is a critical transportation component." Any transition wouldn't happen overnight. Watco would have to add new infrastructure to handle the increase in volume.


The Oregonian: How infrastructure report card reflects on West Coast states in 10 critical areas

oregon-infrastructurejpg-c8791689c3de31c8March 22, 2017

When it comes to shoring up critical roads, bridges and water systems, the United States has plenty of work to do. Last week, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, which gave the country an overall grade of D+.

The report card, which is issued every four years, breaks down what needs to be done state by state, taking a deep look at everything from dams to drinking water.

The report follows a recent survey by U.S. News and World Report, which ranked Oregon and Washington as the top two states when it comes to infrastructure, with California lagging in the lower middle of the rankings.

That doesn’t mean that Oregon and Washington can slack off, since there are still critical areas that need to be addressed, according the society of engineers. In Oregon, for example, there are 77 dams that have a high-hazard risk – something to think about when you hear the latest reports about the threat of Cascadia earthquakes. And in Washington, an estimated 31 percent of public roads are in desperate need of repair.


Spokesman Review: Worries growing for wheat farmers

March 11, 2017
Ripening Wheat.JPG t1140Soft white winter wheat is shown turning from the green color of groFarmers are facing a belt-tightening year as wheat prices slip below the break-even mark, signaling the third consecutive year of financial hardship.

“It’s kind of tough right now,” said Gary Bailey, a Whitman County farmer and a member of the Washington Wheat Commission.

Bailey said he hasn’t heard of anybody going out of business because of economic stress on the farm, “but I think everybody’s just watching their pennies as far as getting along and trying to come up with some other avenues of income. People are looking at alternative crops.”

Soft white wheat and club wheat – two varieties commonly grown in this area – were selling for $4.67 to $4.90 a bushel this week, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Portland daily grain report. That doesn’t take into account the $1 per bushel it costs farmers to ship their product to the coast, where it is loaded onto barges and sent to customers around the world.


Workboat: Lockdown - Inside America’s decaying waterways infrastructure

LaGrange-lock-damBy Pamela Glass on January 19, 2017

More than half of the nation’s 242 inland waterway locks and dams are nearing or have surpassed their 50-year life spans. About a third are more than 70 years old. By 2020, it’s estimated that 78% of these locks and dams will exceed their design life.

Those built in the 1930s are the oldest and in the worst shape. Many of them have concrete that’s crumbling, failing gates, and are plagued by emergency shutdowns that cause operational and financial headaches for barge operators. But even the newest ones, built in the 1970s and ‘80s and already old by construction standards, are too small for modern-day tows and are showing their age.

Many of the oldest locks and dams along the 12,000-mile commercially navigable inland waterways system were built for steam-powered vessels that pushed small tows. Today, tows are bigger — with up to 15 barges carrying large loads of high-value cargo — and are part of a sophisticated, multimodal transportation network that moves commodities like coal, soybeans, cement and energy products for domestic consumption and international trade.


Tri-City Herald Guest Opinion: Costly dams are harmful to salmon, tribes, and taxpayers

By Julian Matthews and Lin Laughy

December 4, 2016

dredging copyRep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., has called on Congress to protect federal hydroelectric dams as a “top priority.” (Tri City Herald, “Newhouse Pushes for Law Protecting Snake River Dams,” Nov. 10).

This plea asks Americans to stay on a course that hastens the disappearance of salmon from our rivers, continues to burn through taxpayers’ hard-earned money at a substantial loss, and adds insult to the injury by reneging on promises made to First Nations people more than 150 years ago.

Many salmon runs have already vanished, but if we take appropriate action now as stewards of the natural world, we can still conserve the resources we care about. No one understands this better than the Nez Perce tribal community, which has relied on salmon as a traditional and essential food since time immemorial. Under the 1855 Treaty, the Nez Perce are guaranteed hunting, fishing and gathering rights. The removal of the four Lower Snake dams would go a long way towards restoring these treaty rights.


Lewiston Morning Tribune: Waterways exec: dams aren't doomed


Thursday, April 7, 2016

The dams on the Columbia-Snake River system aren't going away anytime soon.
With government-funded projects on the horizon - including repairs to locks scheduled for this winter - and a number already completed, Kristin Meira argued Wednesday that the government is putting in decades-long investments into the dams.

Meira, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, addressed a crowd of more than 60 community members at a luncheon Wednesday at Clarkston's Quality Inn. She discussed projects on the river system and addressed criticism of the four lower Snake River dams.

The latest batch of criticism of the dams, Meira said, ties the Snake River dams to the fate of orcas that live in Puget Sound.

"Those orca populations are steadily trending upward, as we see more fish being provided out of the river system out into the ocean for the orcas to eat," she said.


More Articles...

  1. Mar 03, 2016 - Tri-City Herald: Port of Pasco may sell crane, end container business
  2. Dec 04, 2015 - Al Jazeera: Fight Over Dams
  3. Nov 16, 2015 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Studies doubt value of Snake River dams
  4. Nov 05, 2015 - For Immediate Release: Two reports: lower Snake dams failing to pay their way
  5. Oct 22, 2015 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Letter challenges Army Corps of Engineers recent statements on the costs and benefits of the lower Snake River dams.
  6. Oct 01, 2015 - Boise Weekly: Free the Snake: A 150-Boat Flotilla Takes to the River on Oct. 3 to Advocate Against Dams
  7. Aug 18, 2015 - High Country News: Why is bad science protecting the Lower Snake River dams?
  8. Jun 09, 2015 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Farmers closer to shipping solution
  9. Apr 22, 2015 - Lewiston Tribune: Port container traffic on hold indefinitely
  10. Mar 11, 2015 - Idaho Statesman Columnist Rocky Barker: New numbers won't change debate about Snake River structures
  11. Mar 02, 2015 - LMT Commentary: Waddell is not so easy to ignore
  12. Mar 02, 2015 - LMT Editorial: Will taxpayers dub it a 'Port to Nowhere'?
  13. Feb 18, 2015 - Lewiston Tribune: Port of Lewiston sees its container shipping drop to lowest levels in years
  14. Feb 18, 2015 - Oregonian: Hanjin Shipping officially leaves Port of Portland
  15. Feb 15, 2015 - Lewiston Tribune: Once more into the breach debate
  16. Jan 21, 2015 - HCN: Livin' on the dredge: Army Corps mucks out the Snake
  17. Jan 12, 2015 - For Immediate Release: Court declines injunction request to prevent lower Snake dredging this winter; legal challenge moves forward
  18. Jan 04, 2015 - LMT: Port brass defend dredging plan
  19. Jan 04, 2015 - CBB: Lower Snake Dredging Opponents: Loss Of Revenues Does Not Out Weigh Irreparable Environmental Injury
  20. Dec 28, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Pacific lamprey could halt dredging
  21. Dec 26, 2014 - NWPR: $2 Million In Taxpayer Dollars At Risk In Snake River Dredging Showdown
  22. Dec 08, 2014 - Guest Opinion: Aging infrastructure and scarce dollars means tough decisions
  23. Nov 25, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Dredging plan spawns lawsuit
  24. Nov 25, 2014 - Press release: Fishing, conservation groups challenge Corps' costly dredging of lower Snake River
  25. Nov 24, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Clearwater Paper's new warehouse could hurt port
  26. Oct 09, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Lewiston port had difficult fiscal 2014
  27. Sep 11, 2014 - ACTION ALERT - Stop wasteful spending. Protect our wild salmon!
  28. Aug 19, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Dredging on docket for Snake River
  29. Jun 25, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune Letters to the Editor
  30. Jun 20, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Activists descend on Lewiston port hearing
  31. Apr 30, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: New economic data emerges in dams debate
  32. Apr 12, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Group says megaloads threaten rivers
  33. Mar 26, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Lock repair at Little Goose has shippers scrambling;
  34. Jan 15, 2014 - High Country News: Megaloads and wild–and-scenic rivers don’t mix
  35. Dec 17, 2013 - Protect the Lower Snake-Oppose Harmful, Unlawful Dredging!
  36. Dec 04, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Getting to the bottom of the issue
  37. Nov 14, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Dredging up an endless debate
  38. Oct 25, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Megaloads company gives up legal fight
  39. Oct 23, 2013 - Wall Street Journal: Road Too Far: GE Strains to Deliver Energy Colossus
  40. Oct 07, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Much more McGregor
  41. Oct 07, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Bye-Bye to barging on the Snake, Clearwater?
  42. Sep 27, 2013 - Al Jazeera: Tribe fights to save historic river way
  43. Sep 27, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune editorial: Idaho lost more than a megaload court case
  44. Sep 27, 2013 - New York Times: Fight Over Energy Finda a New Front in a Corner of Idaho
  45. Sep 17, 2013 - Spokesman-Review Editorial: Thorough, fair ruling for U.S. 12 megaloads
  46. Sep 17, 2013 - Lewiston Tribune: Judge suspends megaloads
  47. Aug 19, 2013 - Seattle Times: Snake River barging drop: new factor in dams debate?
  48. Aug 16, 2013 - For Immediate Release: Corps Delay to Dredge Lower Snake Shows Need for More Study
  49. Aug 08, 2013 - Nez Perce Tribe Blockades Tar Sands
  50. Jul 26, 2013 - SOS Letter to Forest Service re: megaloads and salmon
  51. Jul 22, 2013 - For immediate release: Five myths about freight transportation on the Lower Snake River
  52. Jun 28, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Port of Lewiston meeting takes an existential turn
  53. Jun 07, 2013 - LMT Guest Opinion: If you do the math, dams don't add up
  54. May 05, 2013 - Spokesman Review guest opinion: It’s time to assess use of shrinking tax dollars on lower Snake River dams
  55. Apr 23, 2013 - AP: Dredge plan draws opposition
  56. Mar 07, 2013 - Old Arguments, New Realities
  57. Mar 07, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune Editorial: Don't take Linwood Laughy's word for it
  58. Jan 25, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Dredging costs rise to top of meeting
  59. Jan 24, 2013 - Rocky Barker Blog: Corps faces a fight over dredging behind Lower Snake dams.
  60. Jan 24, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune Editorial: Judging River Dredging Plan By the Numbers
  61. Jan 23, 2013 - The Sediment Statement and the Lower Snake River Waterway
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