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Wheat on the Columbia Snake River System

The Columbia Snake River System is the nation’s single largest wheat export gateway, transporting over 60% of all U.S. wheat to markets overseas. Eleven states export through our rivers, which moved over 15 million metric tons of wheat in 2020. Barging plays a key role in this transportation system, and fed over 3.8 million tons of wheat to the deep draft Lower Columbia River in 2018. Each year, nearly 10% of all U.S. wheat exports move by barge just on the Snake River!

Oregon Wheat Growers League strongly opposes any proposal to breach the four Lower Snake River dams. The Columbia-Snake River System provides the most environmentally friendly and safest mode of transportation for getting wheat to market. We support solutions that recognize the importance of the river system and substantially contribute to the improvement of fish runs, along with the long-term viability of our agricultural economy.

View our Dams fact sheet!

How this may affect 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.

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 engage with this issue.

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

Murray/Inslee Study (May 2022)

In October 2021, Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Patty Murray announced in a joint statement that they would begin a federal-state process to determine if there is evidence to support breaching dams along the lower Snake River in an effort to save

The study is currently being conducted and a draft report is expected to be released for public comment in May 2022, with the public comment period lasting from mid-May to mid-June 2022. To comment and get involved, visit Governor Inslee and Senator Murray will use this study to inform their recommendation on whether the Lower Snake River Dams should be breached or retained, which will be no later than July 31, 2022salmon populations. The study will examine the areas six types of benefits currently provided by the dams: navigation and transportation; agriculture and irrigation; energy; tourism and recreation; community resilience and economic health; and salmon recovery and habitat restoration.


  • 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.
  • The river system reduces traffic congestion and pollution. In 2019, it would have taken 39,204 rail cars or 150,784 semi-trucks to move the cargo that was barged on the Snake River.
  • One standard barge on any of these rivers takes 134.5 semi-trucks off our roads, while one barge tow (4 barges!) 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

Latest News

OWGL Submits Letter of Record for the House Energy and Commerce Committee Energy, Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee Hearing
January 29, 2024 - The League submitted a letter for the record for the House Energy and Commerce Committee Energy, Climate, And Grid Security Subcommittee hearing scheduled for January 30, 2024.

OWGL Responds

OWGL Responds to Rep. Newhouse Speech
“Thank you to Representative Newhouse for the encouraging words at the recent Environmental Conference in Idaho. OWGL agrees our state leaders should be working in a transparent manner to ensure the entire river system is stable. There must be collaboration and willingness to fund existing programs that retain the dams and benefit salmon and the agriculture industry.” – Clint Carlson, President, Oregon Wheat Growers League
Read the full speech.

PNW States Respond to Dam Breaching Proposal
A coalition of Pacific Northwest agricultural and commercial organizations recently responded with serious concerns to a controversial dam breaching proposal that would tear out four dams on the Snake River. The dam breaching proposal, presented by U.S. Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho, aims to restore fish populations on the river while compensating groups affected by removing the dams. However, in a letter to state government officials in the region, the coalition said the plan would decimate U.S. producers’ ability to move wheat and other products to overseas customers and be of questionable environmental benefit. Read the full article here.

OWGL Joins Letter: Principles of Salmon Recovery

OWGL joined two dozen other regional organizations November in sending letters to the governors and governors-elect of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, identifying principles that should be adopted to guide the development of a region-wide salmon recovery plan. The letters request that solutions must consider warming, acidifying oceans; be holistic in nature; assess social costs of carbon; weigh likely socioeconomic and health impacts on under-represented and vulnerable communities; not add to the risk of wildfires and other climate-driven disasters; recognize the Congressionally-authorized multiple purposes of our river systems; and undergo non-partisan and rigorous scientific testing. Read the full letter here.

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