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Final Environmental Impact Statement

From Northwest RiverPartners on July 31, 2020

Completes Four Year Federal Process; Settles Debate on the Value of the Lower Snake River Dams

Northwest RiverPartners Commends Thorough & Holistic EIS Process; Advocates Greater Efforts Around Climate To Support Salmon Recovery

Northwest RiverPartners today welcomed the much anticipated Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) released by federal action agencies as part of the Columbia River System Operations (CRSO) process.

Developed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration, and the US Bureau of Reclamation, with input from tribal nations and Northwest states, the FEIS provides a comprehensive, final analysis of the four lower Snake River dams (LSRD). It balances the needs of salmon, power supply, and social welfare in the Pacific Northwest.

The report concluded that the best option for fulfilling the multiple objectives of improving salmonid survival, providing a reliable electric grid, and reaching the Northwest’s clean energy future is to maintain the four LSRD with adjusted operations.

Importantly, the FEIS acknowledges the role of the LSRD as a critical source of affordable and dependable energy for the Northwest and reiterates that without the LSRD, the Northwest would be much more susceptible to energy shortages and regional blackouts.

The socio-economic consequences to communities of losing the LSRD would have been dire. The FEIS estimates that the cost of replacing the LSRD with other renewable energy sources backed up with batteries would have approached $800 million per year. That roughly equates to a 25% increase in electricity bills for millions of Northwest residents and businesses.

Exorbitant electricity bills would create economic chaos at a time when we are already reeling from a global pandemic, a homelessness crisis, and an affordable housing shortage.

Achieving a sustainable future requires that we embrace the needs of all communities, and, in particular, the escalating plight of our most vulnerable; Native American tribes, communities of color, immigrant communities, and low-income families.

The report is clear that the potential benefit to salmon from dam breaching varies widely according to modeling assumptions, but the harm to communities that rely on hydropower would have been devastating.

Salmon a Major FEIS Focus

Salmon and steelhead recovery is a critical area of focus in the FEIS. In particular, there has been much debate about the importance of increased spill levels at dams for salmonid survival.

Many salmon advocates believe spilling water with juvenile salmonids over the dams’ spillways—rather than allowing smolts to go through fish bypass systems or past turbines—is beneficial for the salmon and steelhead life cycle. Others argue that higher spill could induce gas bubble trauma in juveniles and increase up-river migration for adults.

The FEIS has adopted an operation that invests millions of dollars annually to test whether increased spill will help or hinder salmonids. The new operation incorporates dramatically higher levels of spill than ever before as part of season-long hydroelectric operations. This operation is part of the continuation of the Flexible Spill Agreement arrived at by Northwest states and many tribal nations in 2018 and put into action in 2019.

The FEIS also calls for continued significant investments in habitat restoration as part of a holistic approach to helping salmonids.

Biological Opinion

Today’s EIS release coincides with the release of a NOAA Fisheries’ Biological Opinion, which examined the proposed hydroelectric operations under the EIS Preferred Alternative. It found that the recommended operations are consistent with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

While past Biological Opinions have been found by the federal court to be inconsistent with the requirements of the ESA, it is our belief that the great lengths taken by the federal agencies to examine dam breaching and other options will demonstrate to the court that the federal action agencies have presented a thoughtful plan, which is consistent with salmon and steelhead recovery objectives.

NWRP espouses hydropower as an important source of affordable, clean energy for the Northwest and embraces the critical need to protect our salmon. We welcome the findings presented in the FEIS and the Biological Opinion. We have always believed that salmon and dams can coexist.

Climate Change & Salmon

We are deeply aware of the need to find strong solutions for the plight of our salmon—a tenet profoundly acknowledged in the EIS.

Given the near-synchronous decline in worldwide salmon populations, addressing climate change and deteriorating oceans are necessary steps for salmon recovery.

NOAA Fisheries’ analysis from the Biological Opinion shows that ocean warming and acidification due to climate change represent a significant and growing threat to healthy salmonid populations. Breaching the lower Snake River dams, conversely, would almost certainly increase the region’s carbon footprint and contribute to further harmful ocean changes.

To meet salmon recovery efforts, we advocate a more reasonable approach through a continued push towards decarbonization to help reverse the worldwide trend in declining salmon runs.

Thorough, Collaborative Process

We hope the Environmental Impact Statement and its in-depth decision-making process bring closure for all stakeholders involved and a firmer conviction around the critical role of the hydropower system, which provides the Northwest with the most affordable carbon-free, renewable energy in the nation.

President's Message

March 16, 2020

US Army Corps of Engineers,
Attn: CRSO EIS
P.O. Box 2870
Portland, OR 97208-2870


Dear US Army Corps of Engineers,

I write to you as a wheat farmer and as the President of the Oregon Wheat Growers League, where I represent our grower members throughout the great state of Oregon. Our growers overwhelmingly support the preferred alternative that rightly avoids the extreme measure of dam breaching. If the dams were breached, the clean power, irrigation supply, and navigable waters made possible by the federal system of locks and dams on the Snake River would come to an end and cause devastation. The demand on the remaining power grid would be stressed to supply inexpensive and reliable power to businesses, irrigated farms and local communities. The irrigation supply to Snake River farms and residential customers would be cut off and the demand from the remaining Columbia River dams would need to supply the deficit. Would there be enough reserves to fill the demand, or would those Snake River acres go back to desert without an inexpensive source of water?

Without the Snake River Locks, the 3.5 million tons of cargo, normally shipped by barge, would be shipped by train and truck. It is estimated that it would take more than 35,140 rail cars to carry this cargo, or more than 135,000 semi-trucks. The rail and highway infrastructure along the Columbia River are not prepared to function with the loss of barging on the Snake River. In addition, our local wheat co-ops would have to make major capital investments in elevators and infrastructure to receive truck traffic from the Snake River areas. This would mean increased train loading and barge loading all along the Columbia River. The rail lines are almost at maximum capacity through the Columbia River system; rail, truck and barge rates will increase as demand increases, another cost our farmers will have to incur. The increased cost of trucking and rail, plus the “put through” cost at our local elevators will cause an economic hardship on farmers and co-ops who need to get the products to market economically. The increased transportation cost will heavily impact wheat producers who are already struggling to make ends meet on many accounts. Barging our wheat and other commercial products is not only the best option to support farm businesses, it is also the most environmentally friendly and safest mode of transportation available.

Save our farms, save our dams and help our environment for future generations to come.

Sincerely,

Clinton R Carlson



PNW States Statement

What we can do

Oregon’s wheat growers and rural communities, along with other PNW states, collectively depend on the broad range of direct and indirect benefits provided by the Columbia-Snake River dams for transportation, power, flood control, irrigation, recreation, and infrastructure. The Columbia Snake River System is the nation’s single largest wheat export gateway. Barging plays a key role in this transportation system and moved over 4 million tons of wheat to Lower Columbia River ports last year. Each year, nearly 10% of all U.S. wheat exports move by barge just on the Snake River.

Oregon Wheat Growers League urges all of our stakeholders to engaged in the comment period for the draft EIS, ending April 13, 2020.

We encourage your participation in the conversation about the community benefits provided by the hydroelectric dams and locks of the Columbia-Snake River System.

PNWA has created guidance and blocks of information that you may use in letters to elected officials, opinion pieces in your local media, social media posts, comments to the federal agencies, and other venues.


For more information, visit https://www.pnwa.net/rivervalues/

Articles to Review





How this may effect Oregon Wheat

Loss of these four facilities will cause irreparable damage to the PNW economy, including Oregon’s wheat growers, not limiting to,

  • Transportation and storage expense are likely to increase 50% to 100% for grain suppliers and shippers. These costs could increase by up to $0.80 per bushel if barging on the Snake River is removed as a transportation option.
  • Diesel fuel consumption to increase by nearly 5 million gallons per year as barges are replaced by much less efficient truck-to-rail shipments.
  • Highway, rail and grain elevator networks would need over $1.6 billion in capital investment.
  • The loss of hydropower generation will reduce the baseload power available to balance the power provided by variable generation sources like wind and solar.
  • Carbon emissions from transportation and replacement power generation would greatly increase, something the State of Oregon is supposedly trying to reduce with countless other policy initiatives


Facts

  • Barging is the safest method of moving cargo, with a lower number of injuries, fatalities and spill rates than both rail and trucks. It is also the most fuel efficient and has the lowest emissions.
  • One standard barge on any of these rivers takes 134 semi-trucks off our roads, while one barge tow takes 538 semi-trucks off our roads.
  • At least 201 additional unit trains and 23.8 million miles in additional trucking activity would be required annually if the Snake River dams were removed.
  • The installation of surface passage has reduced the percentage of fish that go through the powerhouse (turbine), also decreasing the fish travel time through the system. There is a 97 percent juvenile fish survival rate, which is reaching levels seen in rivers without dams and increasing overall survival rates.
  • Texas Transportation Institute/MARAD study showed trucks at 169 miles for 1 ton of cargo moved on 1 gallon of diesel . Rail is 412 miles, inland barging is 475 miles.
  • A better one is Corps of Engineers study of Columbia River barging. One 3600 ton barge of wheat, Lewiston to Portland is 2200 gallons of diesel. Rail is 5300 gallons, trucking is 16,400 gallons for the same tonnage.
  • PNWA Fact Sheet
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