Dams draft report released; public asked to comment

A draft report on the impacts of breaching the lower Snake River dams, which was commissioned by the Governor’s Office last year, has been released and is open for public comment.

The report can be accessed at lsrdstakeholderprocess.org. Directions for submitting comments, either electronically or by mail, are included on the website. Public comments will be accepted through Jan. 24. There will also be three public workshops on the draft report:

• Jan. 7 in Clarkston, Wash.;

• Jan. 9 in Vancouver, Wash.; and

• Jan. 13 in the Tri-Cities.

The public can also complete an online questionnaire (available at lsrdstakeholderprocess.org).

The report states that three themes emerged from interviews:

• There are significantly different views of the impacts from breaching the dams on salmon, orca, agriculture, transportation and economics. More information is needed to create opportunities for greater understanding. 

• Energy, transportation, agriculture, salmon and orca are complex issues and decisions about the lower Snake River dams need to consider the broader systems and context for each. Each issue is dynamic, future changes may provide more options as well as more challenges. 

• People across the diversity of interests expressed the desire to have more informed and respectful conversations. Given that issues around the lower Snake River dams have long been in litigation, the ability for shared learning, collaborative problem-solving and a new dialogue has so far been limited. Many of those interviewed are hopeful about the significant benefits a collaborative dialogue could offer

The report does not make any recommendations on whether or not the dams should be breached, but summarizes the views of those that were interviewed. The report also states that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will use the report to “…inform his perspective on the LSRD (lower Snake River dams) and determine if and how to participate in ongoing federal environmental evaluations of the Columbia and Snake River system.”

According to the draft, the final report will be based on four sources of information: review of relevant reports and studies; interviews with stakeholders, jurisdictions and organizations that would be affected by a decision about the dams; an open online public survey; and public review and comment on the draft report. 

“In the final report, as in this draft, the emphasis will be on understanding and summarizing what people think and the context for those ideas; the Governor will consider the diversity of perspectives when he makes his decisions,” the draft report states.

Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, urged growers and industry stakeholders to submit comments on the draft report.

“We believe this study was an unnecessary duplication of the ongoing federal environmental impact statement process and that the $750,000 appropriated for the study would have been better used elsewhere. The decision on whether or not to breach the lower Snake River dams will be made at the federal level, not at the state level,” Hennings said. “We are appreciative that the study consultants reached out to stakeholders on the east side of the state, because it is that population that will have to shoulder the impacts if the dams are breached. With all the research and technology that is currently available, there is no reason the dams can’t be part of a healthy, whole ecosystem that supports salmon and the needs of the public.”

The lower Snake River dams are essential to navigation and transportation of wheat and other cargo from Eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and Idaho. Approximately 60 percent of wheat grown in Eastern Washington is shipped to export markets via the Columbia-Snake River System. Agricultural products from as far away as the Midwest are shipped to export terminals in Portland and Vancouver through the river system, and it is the top wheat export gateway in the U.S., and the third largest grain export gateway in the world.

Barging is a cheaper, more efficient and cleaner way to move wheat to the Columbia River seaports. A typical four-barge tow that travels down the Snake River hauls as much wheat as 1.4 unit trains and as much as 530 semitrucks. Barges also use far less fuel per ton of cargo moved than either trains or trucks. Keeping barging available also provides important competition to the rail and trucking industries. If growers didn’t have the option to use barging, rail rates and trucking rates would likely go up since they would no longer have to compete with barging.

Besides the impacts to the Inland Pacific Northwest’s transportation system, breaching the lower Snake River dams would also negatively impact the region’s ability to produce emissions-free power through hydropower. The loss of reliable clean power production and increased carbon from transportation emissions will be taking the state’s response to lessening greenhouse gases in the wrong direction.