What Future for the Lower Snake River Waterway?

navigationIn late 2012, the Army Corps of Engineers’ in Washington State released a document and started a critically important conversation about the future of the lower Snake River waterway – and its use as a barge transportation corridor. It’s a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) about sediment management for the waterway. Save Our wild Salmon, in concert with several others groups and the Nez Perce Tribe, has begun work to understand this Dredging DEIS, how the Army Corps would like to manage sediment, shipping and taxpayer dollars in the Lower Snake River for decades to come. The results of our collective research culminated in extensive comments that we submitted in late March before the comment deadline. 

Though the Army Corps is not explicit, the future of the waterway as a transportation corridor is this document's real subject and issue. Read below to learn how this new regional discussion is taking shape. Local citizens are challenging the Army Corps' numbers and analyses. Understanding the actual value of this waterway in the 21st Century - its costs and benefits - and who pays and who benefits - and its risks, must be the foundation for any decisions about its future. Freight transport options in and out of the Lewiston/Clarkston area are essential for local farmers and other businesses, but shipping alternatives exist and these need to be part of this larger discussion.  

Boise Weekly: Free the Snake: A 150-Boat Flotilla Takes to the River on Oct. 3 to Advocate Against Dams

WawawaiTodaySeptember 29, 2015

By Jessica Murri

More than 150 rafts, kayaks and canoes will take to the lower Snake River on Saturday, Oct. 3 as salmon advocates, tribal members, anglers, paddlers, outfitters, orca activists and business owners rally for the removal of four dams on the lower Snake River.

Parts of the Snake River don't look like a river at all, due to four large dams that these advocates want to see breached.

"People are coming from California, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and the San Juan Islands," said Sam Mace, the Inland Northwest Director for Save Our Wild Salmon. "It'll be the biggest gathering of various salmon and orca experts and constituencies that care about the Snake River in more than a decade."

For more than a decade, environmental advocates have pushed to get the four lower Snake River dams removed, which would help salmon more easily navigate the river to get to their original spawning grounds. This year, only 45 sockeye salmon survived the 900-mile journey from the ocean to Redfish Lake, due to elevated water temperatures in the river.

A news release on the event, called Free the Snake Flotilla, partially blames the dams for the hotter temperatures. When water just sits still instead of moving in a current, it heats up significantly faster.

"The four high-cost, low-value dams on the lower Snake River stand between salmon and their home rivers—and it's time they came down," the release said. "These aging dams are costing taxpayers millions of dollars to maintain, while their benefits to the Northwest are in steep decline."

According to a report by Linwood Laughy, a north-central Idaho author and environmental activist who successfully challenged the mega-loads, freight barges on the lower Snake has declined over the past 15 years.

In 1998, 17,611 20-foot equivalent units (box-car containers) went through the Port of Lewiston. In 2014, only 3,240 passed through—down 70 percent. Products like lumber and paper have mostly switched to transportation via railroad and petroleum products now run through a pipeline. Most barges now carry bulk grain.

Despite the decrease in barge traffic on the river, the Army Corps of Engineers still has to spend millions of dollars every year to keep the locks and dams maintained, according to the report.

There are also arguments emerging that show hydropower produced on the Snake River dams is neither cheap, nor clean. The Scientific American reported man-made reservoirs put off more than 20 percent of all methane—a greenhouse gas 35 times more potent than carbon dioxide. EcoWatch reported that researchers found large reservoirs emit as much as 104 teragrams of methane each year, compared to the 80-120 teragrams from fossil fuels. All this methane comes from bacteria on the surface of the water feeding on carbon-based organic plant material like algae.

Even orca activists are jumping on the flotilla to show their support. Orcas feed on salmon, so if salmon aren't successfully navigating the rivers to the ocean because they're being held up by dams, then the orcas' food source takes a hit.

"People want to do something more than write a letter to their lawmaker, though that is important," Mace said. "They want to come together, meet each other and be inspired. I'm excited to have all these folks who have been active on the Snake River issue, but have never actually seen the river, come experience it."

The rally begins at 10 a.m. at the Wawawai Landing, near Pullman, Wash. Folks can paddle six miles around the reservoir, then convene again in the evening for a list of speakers and live music at the Belltower (125 SE Spring Street) in Pullman. Patagonia Clothing and Gear will send a film crew to document the events.

"The float takes place on the reservoir, so we can paddle down and paddle back," Mace said. "Maybe one day, we'll need a shuttle."

To view article with additional inks go here.


High Country News Op-Ed:  Why is bad science protecting the Lower Snake River dams?

Borg Hendrickson 

Aug. 12, 2015

Port of LewistonThe U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the country's dam-building agency, sounded like it knew what it was talking about in 2002. After spending six years and $30 million, the agency confidently recommended not breaching four fish-killing dams on the Lower Snake River.

But now, backed by 15 years of data primarily from the Corps itself, we can say that the Corps was dead wrong. Its claims of being able to help salmon flourish while keeping the dams intact were wildly optimistic. Here's what the agency's Walla Walla District staffers believed was better than breaching:

• The agency said it could "fix" the four dams for passage of juvenile threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. So taxpayers spent over $700 million for improvements to the four dams and McNary Dam on the Columbia.


Lewiston Morning Tribune: Farmers closer to shipping solution

ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune | Friday, May 29, 2015

The infrastructure is available to ship dried peas and lentils by rail from the Port of Lewiston, but processors and railroad companies still need to work through some complicated logistics.

That possibility was the closest thing to a solution that emerged Thursday during a 90-minute meeting of about 100 farmers, shippers, transportation officials and representatives of agricultural businesses and associations.

The group gathered at a Port of Lewiston warehouse next to a dock idled for seven weeks by the withdrawal of the last container carrier regularly calling on the Port of Portland. The meeting was sponsored by the Latah County and Nez Perce County farm bureaus.

For decades, farmers have relied on container shipping to get dried peas and lentils down the Snake and Columbia rivers to Portland, where they were transferred to larger ocean-going vessels.

Between the issues with union labor and the introduction of some vessels too large to navigate the channel between the mouth of the Columbia River and Portland, nothing is likely to change soon, said Mike Hajny, vice president of Westco International, an Ellensburg, Wash., hay exporter. "Anybody who ships out of the Port of Portland has been dealt a new deck of cards. ... The Port of Portland ... is drying up. It's run its course."


Lewiston Tribune:  Port container traffic on hold indefinitely


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

PortofLewistonSeveral Hapag-Lloyd containers sit idle Tuesday at the Port of Lewiston along the banks of the Clearwater River. Hapag-Lloyd, which supplies 90 percent of the containers to Lewiston, has announced it’s pulling out of the Port of Portland in Oregon.

The permanent withdrawal of a key overseas shipper from the Port of Portland has put container traffic at Idaho's only seaport on hold indefinitely for the first time since it started in 1978.

Hapag-Lloyd confirmed Tuesday it's no longer calling on the Port of Portland and will serve its customers through other locations, such as the Port of Tacoma, according to a prepared statement from the German-based shipper.

"We regret any inconveniences for customers and also any negative impact on the port. Our offices are prepared to offer alternative options."

Hapag-Lloyd handled the ocean going portion of the journey for more than 90 percent of the containers that originated in Lewiston.

The only remaining container carrier at the Port of Portland is Westwood, and it's unlikely it will be able to absorb Hapag-Lloyd's customers from Lewiston since it visits different destinations, said Lewiston Port Manager David Doeringsfeld.

"At this point in time, the Port of Lewiston is not shipping any containers on water," he said.


Idaho Statesman Columnist Rocky Barker:  New numbers won't change debate about Snake River structures

LMT.barge.photoBy Rocky Barker

March 5, 2015

Jim Waddell is walking the path blazed by McCall biologist Don Chapman.

Waddell, a retired U.S. Army Corps of Engineers economist, now says the agency's 1999 calculations - released in final form in 2002 - on the cost and benefits of the four lower Snake River dams in Washington were wrong. Breaching the dams, he says, was the most economically sound route for the Pacific Northwest, not gold-plating the dams with fish-passage devices, new electric-generating turbines, new locks and repeated, regular dredging.

Chapman is a former University of Idaho fisheries professor who went from beloved mentor for a generation of fisheries biologists to become the hydroelectric industry's most respected defender in the 1990s. He said until 2005 that the fish-bypass systems were adequate, until it became clear that the rising temperature of the Columbia River and its tributaries and the effects of global warming on ocean conditions made breaching those dams the best hope for Idaho's wild salmon to survive or flourish.

It's a decade later and little has changed. Cyclical Pacific Ocean conditions - cold currents that increase the availability of food and keep predator numbers low - have allowed salmon and steelhead numbers to balloon since 2000, when the decision was made to forgo breaching despite the scientific consensus of the time. Fish-passage devices at the dams and increased spill of water over the dams ordered by a federal judge to aid migration have helped boost salmon populations, as have a host of other costly actions throughout the watershed.

But the overall scientific argument has changed very little. The science continues to show that breaching the four dams is the most effective way to restore salmon in what is the best, healthiest habitat left in the Pacific Northwest: Central Idaho.


Lewiston Morning Tribune Commentary: Waddell is not so easy to ignore  

Friday, February 27, 2015  
By Chris Carlson   
To breach or not to breach the four lower Snake River dams is again being discussed across the region, thanks, in no small part, to an excellent front page article in a recent Sunday edition of the Lewiston Tribune written by Eric Barker.
Thanks, in no small part, also to Jim Waddell, a longtime civilian employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, now retired, who skillfully took a part in earlier corps economic studies attempting to validate the thesis that it would be more expensive to breach the dams than to keep them running.

That just did not pass the common-sense test for Waddell. So after he retired from the corps as a deputy district engineer, he sank his teeth into a hard-nosed analysis of claims made by the corps. To say he found skewed assumptions, ignored issues and cooked numbers would be seriously understating what he unearthed.

Allow me a chortle or two. Two years ago I published my second book, "Medimont Reflections," which contained 13 essays on other issues and other people I had worked with during my almost 40 years of public-sector involvement.

Two of the essays should have generated some controversy inasmuch as they dealt with the four lower Snake dams and with the Northwest Power Planning Council, of which I was Idaho's first appointee and sat for almost a year.


More Articles...

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

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