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.  

Lewiston Morning Tribune: Studies doubt value of Snake River dams

navigationBy ERIC BARKER of the Tribune

November 15, 2015

A pair of studies funded by two Northwest environmental groups conclude the four lower Snake River dams are needed neither to keep the region's commerce moving nor its lights on.

Carried out by Anthony M. Jones of the Boise economic consulting firm Rocky Mountain Econometrics, the first study targets navigation on the lower Snake River and notes commerce made possible by the dams has been in steady decline and at best can only hope to stabilize at a fraction of former levels. Jones writes that container traffic on the lower Snake River has been eliminated and petroleum products have nearly disappeared. With new competition from rail, he said wood products and wheat and barley are down from historic levels, but may stabilize at current levels.

"The long-term high forecast for tonnage on the lower Snake River looks to be about 2.7 million tons," he wrote, and noted the low forecast is similar.

The study was released before the Port of Lewiston announced this week that a small amount of container traffic would return to the river.

At the high point of river transportation, when more goods were shipped by barge and the price difference between rail and river shipping was greater, barging produced a benefit of about $20 million per year. He said based on current shipping prices and river transportation tonnage, those who choose to move products by barge instead of rail save about 2.4 cents per ton, or about $7.6 million annually.


rmecon1For Immediate Release

November 5, 2015

For more information:
Sam Mace, Save Our wild Salmon
(509) 863-5696 //

Kevin Lewis, Idaho Rivers United
(208) 343-7481 //

Anthony Jones, Rocky Mountain Econometrics
208-631-4334 //

Two new reports: lower Snake River dams failing to pay their way

A system of outdated dams and locks on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington state is in continued and serious economic decline, according to two reports released this week by Save Our wild Salmon and Idaho Rivers United.

The reports, authored by economist Anthony Jones of Rocky Mountain Econometrics, look at the dams’ two main benefits or services: flatwater transportation and energy production. Together the reports demonstrate that 1) commercial navigation on the lower Snake River generates less than 50 cents for every dollar spent to provide it and 2) that electricity produced by the dams wouldn’t be missed if it were to vanish from the Northwest power grid tomorrow.

“These reports raise new and serious questions about the economic value and viability of four dams whose costs appear to exceed their benefits,” said Save Our Wild Salmon Inland Northwest Director Sam Mace. “Can our region afford to maintain high cost, low value infrastructure when other valuable projects in the Basin that deliver greater value are themselves facing expensive upgrades and repairs? Costs to maintain and operate this infrastructure are going to continue to rise as it ages.”



Letter challenges Army Corps of Engineers recent statements on the costs and benefits of the lower Snake River dams.

vail.ltr copyOctober 22, 2015

The below individuals/organizations are challenging a statement distributed on Oct. 2, 2015, by the Corps of Engineers Walla Walla District to the media and quoted, or repeated verbatim, by a number of media outlets covering the Oct. 3rd 'Free the Snake' Flotilla involving 300+ participants.

Kevin Lewis, Idaho Rivers United,
Gary Macfarlane, Friends of the Clearwater,
Sharon Grace, Southern Resident Killer Whale Chinook Salmon Initiative, parons@rockisland.com
Sam Mace, Save Our Wild Salmon,
F. S. Buck Ryan, Snake River Waterkeeper,
Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research, whaleresearch.com http://whaleresearch.com/
Howard Garrett/Susan Berta, Orca Network, orcanetwork.org http://orcanetwork.org/
C. Mark Rockwell, Endangered Species Coalition,
Cindy Magnuson, Palouse Broadband, Great Old Broads for Wilderness,
Linwood Laughy, Snake River Resurrection,

The letter signed by these individuals can be viewed here.

Lt. Col. Timothy Vail's Statement, identified by the Corps as "15-069 Snake River Dams provide outstanding value to the Nation," is viewable here.


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."


More Articles...

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