Before the Feb. 7 comment period closed, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers submitted comments in a letter on the proposed scoping process for the Columbia River Systems Operations Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The letter outlined the organization’s opposition to any consideration of dam removal or breaching, saying, “…it is important that the scoping effort recognize that there is no basis to breach, remove or bypass the Snake River or other federal dams. Such options do not meet the definition of “reasonable” under the National Environmental Policy Act and should not be included in the scoping process or in the draft Environmental Impact Statement.”
The Snake River dams are part of the Columbia-Snake River System, a 465-mile river waterway that is the top wheat export gateway in the U.S. and the third largest grain export gateway in the world. More than half of the wheat barged on the river system moves through one or more of the dams. To move the same amount of wheat by road or rail would require 137,000 semi-trucks or 23,900 rail cars, leading to increased fuel consumption, increased emissions and increased wear and tear on our transportation infrastructure.
Besides grain, nearly $3 billion worth of commercial cargo is moved across the river system, giving markets as far away as the Midwest access to international markets. Barging is one of the lowest cost, most environmentally friendly modes of transportation we have. A typical four-barge tow moves the same amount of cargo as 140 rail cars or 538 trucks using just a fraction of the fuel.
In addition to providing businesses with affordable, reliable transportation to move our goods to market, the dams provide the region’s largest source of carbon-free, renewable electricity. The majority (90 percent) of the Northwest’s renewable energy comes from hydropower dams, which not only is clean, reliable power, but affordable electricity (much cheaper than wind and solar) that attracts business to our region. Nearly 60 percent of the energy produced in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana is generated by hydropower dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. If the dams were removed, it would take two nuclear, three coal-fired or six gas-fired power plants to replace the average annual power they produce, leading to the increased production of greenhouse gases. Additionally, a 2015 Bonneville Power Administration analysis showed that the cost to replace the power the Snake River dams produce would be $264-$350 million annually at current market prices.