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Washington Senator Patti Murray and Washington Governor Jay Inslee recently announced their recommendations concerning a final Lower Snake River Dams (LSRD) Benefit Replacement Report. Basically, they state their belief that while breaching the dams would help salmon populations, breaching should not occur until economic impacts, including substantial negative effects on the U.S. wheat export system, are mitigated.

The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) responded to the recommendations August 26, reflecting the position of U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and local organizations representing U.S. wheat growers.

“The dams play a vital role in providing a safe, efficient and affordable way for wheat farmers to get their product to market,” said NAWG CEO Chandler Goule. “We are glad the recommendations released by Senator Murray and Governor Inslee recognize the role these dams play in agriculture and acknowledge dam breaching is not feasible at present.

“However, we remain concerned and opposed to breaching as it would be detrimental to wheat growers across the region. Last month, NAWG filed public comments outlining our concerns, whereby other modes of transportation cannot simply replace barging. Wheat farmers move grain most efficiently by using the waterway instead of rail or truck while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. NAWG remains committed to working with our federal partners and stakeholders to meet the challenge of helping facilitate a healthy river ecosystem while supporting wheat growers.”

 

The Idaho Wheat Commission produced the video story above about the Columbia Snake River System and its irreplaceable role in the Pacific Northwest U.S. wheat production and export system.

USW has also shared the following information about  the Lower Snake River dams:

Facts About U.S. Wheat Exports And The Columbia Snake River System

USW Expresses Support For Maintaining Lower Snake River Dams

Report On Replacing The Benefits Of The Lower Snake River Dams Generates Concern

Capital Press Reports On Proposal To Remove Snake River Dams

 

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On behalf of the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Transportation Working Group, we* appreciate the opportunity to provide comments on the draft Lower Snake River Dams Benefit Replacement Report.

The draft report raises serious concerns among U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and its member states. The USW Transportation Working Group (TWG) questions many of the baseline assumptions argued in the draft report. The draft is incomplete because many of the key variables cannot be quantified. The Lower Snake River Dams (LSRD) provide a critical need that moves U.S.-grown wheat to high-value markets around the world. Breaching the dams would have serious economic consequences for producers and grain handlers. Removing the dams also runs counter to achieving climate-friendly goals.

Barging Benefits

USW strongly supports the sustainability and reliability of wheat transportation by barge. The Columbia Snake River System is an essential part of a logistical web that moves over half of all U.S. wheat exports to more than 20 Pacific Rim countries and encompasses some of the largest U.S. wheat buyers in the world. The Snake River moves more than 10% of all wheat that is exported from the United States. Because of the cost savings conveyed by barging grain and examples used in the draft report, we can conclude that farmers save considerably by using the waterway in place of rail or truck and are able to pass on savings to consumers.

Barge loading wheat to move through Lower Snake River Dams and down the Columbia River to export elevators.

The Lower Snake River Dams provide critical needs for wheat farmers, grain handlers, merchandisers, and millers. The draft report clearly outlines the benefits enjoyed by grain handlers, “barging is the lowest-cost option (per ton-mile) for wheat shipping, an additional benefit for Pacific Northwest producers, as they operate on narrow cost margins and use barging to maximize their profit per bushel.” Shifting the current volume of wheat and other grains moving via barge on the LSRD over to rail or truck is not a viable and straightforward solution as portions of the draft study imply. Rail and truck cost significantly more on a per bushel basis, and trucks have distance limitations.

Breaching Increases Transportation Costs

An excerpt from the draft report outlines the literal costs to farmers: “One of the most significant transportation impacts connected with LSRD breaching is shipping costs. Several studies cite shipping prices during scheduled lock outages for maintenance between December 2010 and March 2011 and found that during the outage, over 90% of the grain by volume was shipped by rail and that shippers experienced a nearly 40% increase in shipping and storage costs.” This example shows that railroads will use their power to raise rates when other alternatives, like the river system, are unavailable.

The Port of Lewiston is the most inland port in the U.S, Pacific Northwest. Its placement on the Snake River allows farmers in Idaho and other states to barge their wheat efficiently and affordably. The U.S. competes with six other primary wheat-exporting countries. According to the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), the United States is the third-largest wheat exporter in the world. However, for the U.S. to remain competitive with other wheat exporting nations, export prices must remain competitive. Inland transportation costs are a primary factor in determining the competitiveness of U.S. wheat. Using barges to ship grain is one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways that U.S. wheat farmers stay competitive.

Rail Cannot Make Up Difference

All wheat production zones in the U.S. would be impacted, not just those in close proximity to the Lower Snake River Dams system. The U.S. rail system has some severe issues with service and reliability, and in recent years, tariff costs to move wheat have steadily increased. Adding more volume to the system would raise costs for all farmers and lead to a decline in service for a significant portion of all U.S. wheat producers. This would directly impact U.S. wheat’s global competitiveness as an export market.

Transporting wheat by barge is an environmentally friendly alternative to rail and truck hauling. One four-barge tow can move as much grain as 144 rail cars or 538 semi-trucks. Removing the dams would not only remove clean hydroelectricity but would mandate more significant carbon emissions as grain handlers are forced to rely on railroads and semi-trucks for long-haul delivery to export facilities in Portland and elsewhere.

Map of the Columbia Snake River System from Pacific Northwest Waterways Association

Eight Steps Down. Lock and dam systems on the Columbia Snake River System allow barges to efficiently and safely navigate the 222-meter elevation change from Lewiston, Idaho, to export elevators as far west as Longview, Wash.

More Competition Not Less

The draft report provides no sincere considerations for alternative freight, and what suggestions it does make are unrealistic. While railroads and trucks compete with barge companies to move grain, farmers and grain handlers would be held captive without barges as an alternative.

USW supports the Columbia Snake River System and will continue to emphasize its importance in serving wheat buyers worldwide. Breaching of the dams on the Lower Snake River would have a devastating economic impact on wheat production and market competitiveness, not just in the Pacific Northwest Region, but nationally.

*This article represents public comments by the USW Transportation Working Group to the Lower Snake River Dams Benefit Replacement Report submitted July 11, 2022, by working group co-chairs Jim Peterson, Policy and Marketing Director, North Dakota Wheat Commission, and Charlie Vogel, Executive Director, Minnesota Wheat Research & Promotion Council.

 

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It is 3:00 on a brisk and overcast Tuesday afternoon, and the sun is already low in the sky. I am sitting in the galley of a tugboat — state of the art, I am told. The tugboat has all the amenities any crew would need with five staterooms, a kitchen, a washer and dryer, and even a weight room. There is some tension on board, with a hurry-up-and-wait attitude, when the phone finally rings. The deck mechanic answers and the barge we are waiting on is finally loaded with 1,500 metric tons (MT) of soft white wheat. The motor hums to life, and we start moving, slowly, toward the grain elevator. It is growing dark as two grain barges are tethered together, and we begin downriver from Lewiston, Ida., headed to Portland, Ore. It will be a two-and-a-half-day journey first down the Snake River, connecting to the Columbia River and finally to the Willamette River, to reach our Portland export elevator destinations, about 360 miles.

This river, in general, is very handsome, except at the rapid, where it is risking both life and property to pass.” – From the Journal of Sgt. Patrick Gass, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Michael Anderson is picture front, left with the crew of the tugboat crew.

We follow the same route that Lewis and Clark took as the “Corps of Discovery” traveled west. The rivers were different in 1805, untamed by today’s intricate system of dams and locks. The eight dams that we will pass through have made it possible to harness the rivers into a major artery carrying U.S. wheat bound for export from farm to port.

The boat rocks side to side on my first night. It is comfortable, but the unfamiliar feeling makes it hard to settle in. Suddenly the boat lurches, and the light outside gets brighter. The first lock, Lower Granite, comes into view from the deck. Two spotlights illuminate our way as we creep up to the lock. Slowly we approach the brightly lit lock and are guided in along a long concrete wall. The force of the shallow water beneath us is the only thing that keeps the tug and barges moving forward. With inches to spare on either side, we have entered the lock. Behind the boat, a gate rises from underneath the water; it is about three feet above the surface when suddenly the gate stops rising, and our boat starts sinking below the surface. It is a rapid movement, but it continues for a long time. The watermark rises above us as we descend below the surface, protected by thick concrete walls. Finally, we stop moving. We are now 100 feet below the level at which we entered the lock. I walk to the front of the boat just in time to see the gates in front, towering above us, start to open, revealing the river ahead, and slowly we make our way out of the lock and down the river.

As a crew member aboard a tug, your day is not a simple “9-to-5.” With one crew on and one off, the day is broken into shifts of six hours each, from 12 to 6 and 6 to 12. The environment shared by the crew is family-like, cooking meals together and watching TV. Only the person driving the boat, the captain or the pilot, is constantly on watch. The deck mechanics jump into action when the boat enters a lock or when we pick up another barge, and this journey is a four-barge tow, meaning four barges being pushed by one tugboat.

From the bridge, the captain has a sweeping view on all sides, and plenty of sophisticated equipment helps him navigate even when we are surrounded by fog, which in the Pacific Northwest is common. Another lock is just ahead. The boat only moves about nine miles per hour. We fit into the lock with precision, again with just a foot on each side to separate us from the massive concrete walls. Unlike the lock last night, this lock is too short to fit the whole tow in at once, but that is nothing out of the ordinary for this crew. Once the barges are tethered in place, the captain skillfully maneuvers the tugboat like a game of Tetris into a tiny space giving the back of the boat just enough room for the lock keeper to close us in. Again, a large iron gate rises from the water behind us, and like an elevator, we start moving down inch by inch. In front is what looks like a massive garage door. The lock opens, revealing the next stretch of the river ahead.

The mechanics of the lock are simple: we are moving down river with the flow of the water, so when we enter a lock, it is full of water. The lock seals behind us, and a valve is released to allow the water to rush out of the lock. The tow itself is being moved to the same level as the river we are moving down. Once the tow is at the same level as the water outside the lock, the valve is closed, and we wait for the massive concrete door ahead of us to open so the tow can move out. It is a similar procedure for ships going upriver against the flow, but instead of the valve releasing water, the valve fills the lock. It takes about 30 minutes to pass through each lock.

The Columbia Snake River System is a superhighway for moving wheat and other agricultural products from farm to market. The barges and rail lines that run on both banks of the Columbia River carry more than 55% of all U.S. wheat bound for export each year. Barges are the most efficient way to move large volumes of grain, making the river system a cost-effective and “green” logistical option. The Army Corps of Engineers maintains the lock system; its history goes back to the 1930s when President Franklin Roosevelt personally inaugurated Bonneville, the first of the eight dams and locks east of Portland.

After about 60 hours on board the tugboat, we arrive in Vancouver, Wash., on the north bank of the Columbia River. We drop off two barges at an export elevator and proceed west again, up the north-flowing Willamette River that bisects Portland. It is my third river in a week, and we are taking the last barge to an export elevator just across the river from the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) West Coast Office. There is a vessel at berth waiting for the wheat we carry. The crew drops the barge, and me, at the elevator. I walk up a set of metal stairs connected to a hoist and hop off, touching land for the first time since Tuesday. I walk across the river on Portland’s Steel Bridge, under which the wheat from our tow will pass on its way overseas, to my office.A tugboat pushes a grain barges down the Snake River on its way from Lewiston, Idaho to Portland, Ore.

By Michael Anderson, USW Market Analyst

This story was originally published on October 21, 2019.

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The Columbia Snake River System is the network of federal dams and locks on the Columbia River and connected water bodies, including the Snake River. This system enables grain barges to carry wheat 360 miles from Lewiston, Idaho, to export elevators as far west as Longview, Wash.

In marketing years 2019/20 and 2020/21, more than 55% of all U.S. wheat exports* moved through the system by barge or rail. Of the more than 15.0 million metric tons (MMT) of U.S. wheat exported from Pacific Northwest (PNW) export elevators each of those years, an estimated 4.6 MMT arrived by barge.

In addition, an estimated 10% of total annual U.S. wheat exports each year passes through the four locks and dams on the Snake River between Lewiston, the most inland port in the nation, and its confluence with the Columbia River.

Chart shows the amount of U.S. wheat by class that is exported through the Columbia Snake River System

Four Classes of Wheat are exported from PNW export elevators after arriving through the Columbia Snake River System by barge and rail. Source: Federal Grain Inspection Service. 

Grain Superhighway

In October 2019, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Market Analyst Michael Anderson shared his experience aboard a four-tow barge moving wheat from Lewiston to western export elevators on the deep-water Columbia River. Eight locks on the system allow barges to safely navigate the nearly 222-meter drop in elevation over that distance.

“The Columbia Snake River System is a superhighway of sorts for moving wheat and other agricultural products from farm to market,” Anderson said. “The ability to move such a large volume of grain efficiently makes the river system a very cost-effective and “green” logistical option. The Army Corps of Engineers maintains the lock system. And its history goes back to the 1930s when President Franklin Roosevelt personally inaugurated Bonneville, the first of the eight dams and locks east of Portland.”

Barge loading on Snake River

From Way Up River. Wheat is loaded onto a barge tow on the Snake River, the eastern segment of the Columbia Snake River System, near the start of its journey to export.

Earlier in 2019, Anderson noted why barging represents an essential part of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) wheat export supply system, including rail and trucking.

Barge Efficiency

“The rivers can move more volume at once, with greater fuel efficiency,” he wrote. “One barge can carry the same amount of wheat as 35 rail cars or 134 trucks. A barge tow can carry more than one 100-unit train or 538 trucks. And one barge can move a ton of wheat 647 miles per gallon while a truck can only move a ton of wheat 145 miles per gallon.”

The Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA) also reports that barging is a very safe way to move cargo, with fewer injuries, fatalities and accidental spills than other transportation options.

Economic Value

This system transports four classes of U.S. wheat grown by dependable farmers in 11 states. In addition, some of that wheat and other crops for export markets are irrigated with water from the system. And the dams on the Columbia Snake River System generate 90% of the renewable electric power in the PNW.

Map of the Columbia Snake River System from Pacific Northwest Waterways Association

Eight Steps Down. Lock and dam systems on the Columbia Snake River System allow barges to efficiently and safely navigate the 222-meter elevation change from Lewiston, Idaho, to export elevators as far west as Longview, Wash.

A Necessary Link

The Columbia Snake River System and other major U.S. river systems truly connect the United States to its trading partners. The river system keeps U.S. wheat competitive by moving higher volumes more efficiently. USW, its state wheat commission members, wheat associations and supply chain stakeholders in the tri-state region of Idaho, Oregon and Washington all support the Columbia Snake River System and will work to see that it continues working for wheat buyers around the world.

* Source: Federal Grain Inspection Service

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In the Pacific Northwest (PNW), wheat can move by barge to export elevators from as far away as Idaho. That is because of the series of eight locks and dams that make safe, efficient navigation possible on one of the leading trade gateways in the United States — the Columbia Snake River System.

The Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA) notes that over 8.6 million tons of cargo are moved by barge on the inland portion of the system, feeding the deep draft lower Columbia River. The Columbia Snake River System is the top wheat export gateway in the nation.

Serving Asia, Latin America

Idaho exports more than half of its wheat crop each year. The Port of Lewiston on the Snake River, the most inland U.S. port, is uniquely positioned to source that wheat for the six major PNW export elevators serving Asian and Latin American wheat markets. All aspects of the river system are essential for transporting wheat from farm to market. However, barging through the lower Snake River is the most efficient, affordable, and environmentally friendly way to get that wheat to export locations. For context, one 4-barge tow on this river system moves as much cargo as 144 rail cars or 538 semi-trucks.

An estimated 10% of all U.S. wheat exported every year moves through the four locks and dams on the lower Snake River. The Idaho Wheat Commission and its partners recently shared the short video below that tells the story of how the Columbia Snake River System works for the world’s wheat importers, for the U.S. farmers who grow that wheat, and for the people of the Pacific Northwest.

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) will share more information about the crucial role of the Columbia Snake River System in future Wheat Letter posts.

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Private grain companies in the U.S. wheat export system in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) overcome challenging logistics to deliver wheat that consistently meets contract specifications to buyers around the world. Grain sellers based in Gulf, Lakes and Atlantic ports operate very similar logistical systems to export wheat and other grains.

We are sharing a video and written look at how these successful companies do their work serving U.S. wheat farmers and overseas wheat buyers.

Sourcing Wheat From the Interior

An overseas buyer contracts with an exporter for wheat of specific class, grade, quality and price. It is then up to the exporter to source that wheat and get it loaded at the contracted price.

They do this reliably through a very efficient, system that moves the wheat to market using trucks, barges and rail to the vessel, often within a two-week shipping window.

U.S. wheat export system starts at country elevators.

U.S. wheat export system starts at interior elevators where wheat purchased from farmers is loaded onto train cars for delivery to export elevators.

In the U.S. wheat export system, grain sellers source U.S. wheat supplies from local elevators close to the farms.

Hard red spring (HRS) wheat comes mainly from the Dakotas and Montana. Hard red winter (HRW) wheat originates mostly in Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and some from PNW states.

Those classes are loaded onto dedicated 110 car unit trains that haul the wheat over the Rocky Mountains and down the Columbia River Gorge to the export elevators.

Farmers deliver much of the soft white (SW) and white club wheat grown in Washington, Oregon and Idaho to grain facilities on the Snake, Columbia or Willamette Rivers where it is loaded onto barges or trains for the ports.

In the U.S. wheat export system, barge transportation is efficient and safe.

In the U.S. wheat export system, barges are the most cost-efficient transportation method. In the Pacific Northwest, wheat can move by barge to export elevators from as far away as Idaho because of the series of locks and dams that make safe, efficient navigation possible on the Columbia-Snake River System.

Because U.S. wheat is graded and segregated by class and quality at every step of the supply system, the export elevator knows they will receive the wheat they need to fill their customer’s contract.

Highly Automated Process

The receiving process at elevators in the U.S. wheat export system is highly automated. Numerous sensors and cameras allow only a few people to unload the wheat very quickly into temporary holding bins segregated by class, grade and quality.

Barges in this tributary can discharge 600 metric tons of wheat per hour. Unit train cars are opened and unloaded in less than 18 hours.

The export elevator’s shipping system is also automated. One person from a control room can select wheat from different storage bins and blend them together to be loaded onto the bulk vessel the buyer has chartered.

But, under U.S. law, that cannot happen until the wheat is inspected to certify that the quality loaded matches the customer’s specifications.

This highly regulated, standardized process is conducted by the USDA’s Federal Grain Inspection Service, or a state inspection agency supervised by and subject to the same standards as FGIS.

FGIS inspection and certification is required by law in the U.S. wheat export system.

FGIS inspection makes  the U.S. wheat export system uniquely valuable. A random sample of every sub lot of wheat is broken down into specified quantities by FGIS officials and weighing, inspection and certification is standardized and objective. FGIS inspection data also yields information that buyers can use to get the most value from their tenders. 

In this process, a specific amount of wheat is sampled every 15 to 20 seconds as it flows from the elevator into designated shipping bins holding from 1,000 to 2,000 metric tons.

The sample is collected in the FGIS lab at the elevator and the shipping bins remain closed while FGIS inspects each sample.

When the inspectors certify that the sample meets the customer’s contract specifications, FGIS opens the shipping bins, allowing the elevator to load that wheat onto the vessel. If not, the wheat in the shipping bin is returned to the elevator to be re-blended.

Quality Assurance

FGIS saves sub-lot samples from each shipping bin for 90 days in case an issue comes up when the wheat arrives at its destination.

To give the buyer additional quality assurance, about 10 percent of all samples are sent to a national FGIS Board of Appeals and Review to be re-inspected for quality control monitoring.

Those inspections generate valuable data that customers can use to get even more value from their purchases of high-quality U.S. wheat. Your U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) representative can help you make good use of this information as you write your tenders.

In the U.S. wheat export system, grain companies move wheat from inland farms and elevators to deep water ports more efficiently and economically than any wheat supply system in the world.

In the U.S. wheat export system, grain companies move wheat from inland farms and elevators to deep water ports more efficiently and economically than any wheat supply system in the world.

It is very reassuring to wheat importers that U.S. grain handlers segregate wheat by class and quality, and maintain its wholesome character, while moving wheat from inland farms and elevators to deep water ports more efficiently and economically than any wheat supply system in the world.

Learn More

More information about the U.S. wheat export supply system is available from USW online or from your local representative, including an interactive map of the system, a section on “How to Buy U.S. Wheat” and other resources.

 

 

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A coalition of Pacific Northwest (PNW) 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 government officials, 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.

The National Association of Wheat Growers joined state wheat organizations in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana in signing the letter.

No Dams, No Barges

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) has shared stories about the sustainability and reliability of wheat transportation by barge. The Columbia and Snake Rivers are essential parts of a logistical system that moves more than half of all U.S. wheat exports every year to more than 20 Pacific Rim countries. Wheat loaded on the Snake River makes up 10% of all U.S. wheat exports.

Barge traffic on the Columbia-Snake River System is the most cost-efficient and sustainable connection between U.S. wheat farmers and their customers overseas. And more easily navigable, safe and efficient barge transportation depends on river locks at each of the targeted dams.

Uncertain Results

USW shares the opinion stated in the coalition letter that improving fish populations are important and admirable goals. Still, there is little certainty removing the dams will restore fish populations to a level that would satisfy environmental advocacy groups involved in litigation over the river’s management.

The river system’s current management strikes a balance between all river uses—providing renewable electricity, transportation, irrigation flood control, and recreation. The dam breaching proposal would eliminate nearly all these benefits of the river. It would also subject interior PNW communities to a wide range of environmental and economic impacts.

Barge Traffic Safe for Now

Fortunately, U.S. wheat importers should not worry that the dams are in imminent danger. Members of Congress have not yet written legislation on the dam breaching proposal and it has not attracted much political support.

Hopefully, the proactive and vocal nature of river stakeholders early in this process will highlight the shortcomings of the proposal’s fish recovery portion and the enormous costs for trade, the region and the U.S. Treasury.

By Dalton Henry, USW Vice President of Policy

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By Matthew Weaver. Reprinted from Capital Press with permission.

Editor’s Note: The image at the top of this story shows the Columbia-Snake River System with wheat export loading facilities on the rivers. Blue color indicates areas of soft white wheat production, Gold color indicates hard red spring production area, and Green color indicates hard red winter production area. View this interactive U.S. Wheat Export Supply System map produced by U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) here.

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson says his plan to end all salmon litigation and remove four Snake River dams would offer agriculture unprecedented legal protection, but industry stakeholders say it’s a nonstarter.

Simpson, R-Idaho, has not proposed legislation, but on Feb. 7 released a $33.5 billion concept for salmon recovery, which includes removing the Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams on the lower Snake River in 2030 and 2031.

“It’s such a different approach,” said a Simpson representative, speaking on background. “We’re not saying, ‘Take the dams out and save salmon.’ We’re saying, ‘Save agriculture, replace everything and then save salmon.’” If the dams are removed, each interest group would need sufficient resources to replace the benefits they currently receive, the representative said.

Replacement power generation would have to be built and online by 2030, prior to breaching the dams.

The concept includes an automatic 35-year extension of licensing for all remaining public and private dams generating more than 5 megawatts in the Columbia River Basin. This would “lock in” the dams and eliminate the “slippery slope” argument of, “If you allow them to remove these four dams they will go after the other main-stem Columbia River dams and others,” the representative said. Under the concept, if the dams are removed, any litigation related to anadromous fish within the Columbia River system under the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act or the Clean Water Act would be immediately halted and stayed for 35 years.

The plan combines many different elements that are not necessarily related, including fish recovery, energy generation and electricity rates, said Kristin Meira, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association.

Each element requires its own intense inquiry and study, she said.

“Unfortunately, the idea of Snake River dam breaching is a non-starter when it comes for how we move cargo and ultimately for our energy portfolio,” she said. Taking out the dams would make that stretch of the Snake River impassable for barge traffic.

Ice Harbor Dam and navigation lock near Burbank, Wash., on the Lower Snake River

The Ice Harbor Dam and navigation lock near Burbank, Wash., on the Lower Snake River provides navigation, hydroelectric generation, and incidental irrigation. iStock photo.

Stakeholders also say breaching the dams won’t achieve salmon recovery, pointing to fish declines along the West Coast due to ocean temperatures, runoff and other factors.

Four of 13 endangered salmon populations listed traverse the Snake River dams, said Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission.

“Everybody knows salmon are not doing well regardless of the rivers that have dams, don’t have dams,” Squires said.

Removal of the dams and the navigation system would affect reliability and timeliness of wheat delivery to customers overseas, Squires said.

“When we visit with overseas buyers, very seldom, if ever, do they ask about what’s going on with the barge system,” he said. “What they ask about is, what’s going on with the rail system?”

Transportation costs to get wheat to West Coast ports would increase by 50% to 100%, said Michelle Hennings, Washington Association of Wheat Growers executive director.

Barging is the most carbon-friendly mode of transportation, Hennings said. Switching to trucks and trains would likely increase carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions by over 1.25 million tons per year.

“This is not a plan that gets us on a greener path when it comes to cargo movement,” Meira said.

Read additional information about this issue at the following links:

https://www.wawg.org

https://www.owgl.org/p/resources/latest-news

IGPA Press Release

https://www.pnwa.net/wp-content/uploads/20210204-Simpson-plan.pdf

https://nwriverpartners.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/2021-NWRP-Simpson-Plan-PressStatement.pdf

https://www.tri-cityherald.com/news/local/article248998910.html 

https://simpson.house.gov/salmon/

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By Matthew Weaver. Reprinted with permission from Capital Press, www.capitalpress.com, Dec. 2, 2019

[Editor’s Note: The locks and dams on the Columbia-Snake River System are an essential infrastructure for the efficient transportation of U.S. wheat from the interior to vital export elevators serving buyers in Asia and Latin America. This article examines the effort to tell the complete story of how the river system serves a broad range of people and interests. On behalf of the farmers we represent and their export customers, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) strongly supports keeping the system, in its present form, whole.]

Northwest agricultural transportation advocates are backing a new advertising campaign to combat environmentalists’ “simplistic messages” about removing four dams on the Snake River.

“Snake River Faces,” sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, tells the story of several people who have personal connections to the river, including a wheat farmer, a family winery and a port director who welcomes commercial tour boats and kayaks on the river in her free time.

Environmental groups have for years called for the removal of the Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams, citing their impacts on federally protected salmon and, more recently, orcas.

“There’s a lot of misinformation and lack of understanding about the river and all of the different, amazing things it delivers to our region and to the nation,” said Kristin Meira, executive director of the association.

Ads are running in magazines throughout Washington state and on Facebook.

Meira said the campaign will run through early January.

The abundance of misinformation is “really unfortunate,” she said.

“It ends up doing a disservice to the very species we’re all interested in helping, whether it’s salmon or orca,” she said. “The idea you can do one action in one area and have those species recover is unfortunately just not how it works. But unfortunately, those very simplistic messages are being delivered all around the region, including to our decision makers.”

The association relies on information from federal agencies, particularly NOAA Fisheries, on species recovery and to highlight the impact of the dams.

Meira said a colleague put out a call for information about the number of jobs the dams provide over the summer.

d Pacific Northwest wheat farmers like Marci Green of Fairfield, Wash., rely on the Columbia-Snake River System and its locks and dams to efficiently move wheat to export elevators.

Fairfield, Wash., wheat farmer Marci Green is featured in the campaign.

“Just like every farmer in Eastern Washington, most of our wheat is exported,” Green said. “The most fuel-efficient and cost-effective way for us to get our crops to the ports in Portland and Vancouver is by truck and barge on the Snake and Columbia River.”

Barges using locks at the Snake River dams move nearly 10 percent of all U.S. wheat exports to international markets most years.

“Anything we can do as the agricultural industry to get the word out and communicate why the river system is important to our industry and to the economy of the whole state and the Pacific Northwest, we need to do,” Green said.

The association also asks residents to provide comments to an online questionnaire offered by consultants hired by the office of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to gather and summarize the effects of retaining or removing the four dams. Responses will go into a report to Inslee.

Meira said it’s too early to tell whether efforts to combat the misinformation are making a dent.

“We’re hopeful these will be eye-opening pieces that will help better connect people to parts of the region where they may have heard a little bit, but don’t really understand (or) don’t know the connection that all of us have,” she said.

Green hopes to get the public to consider science and not respond solely to emotion. She isn’t sure how to measure the effectiveness of agriculture’s messaging.

“I have to hope that we’re making some kind of an impact,” she said. “It’s one of those things that always comes up, it’s one of those issues that we are constantly up against. I don’t see the issue going away any time soon. It’s going to take a lot of perseverance and telling our side of the story over and over and over again.”

For more information, visit: “Faces of the Snake River” at https://www.snakeriverfaces.com/; and “Riding with the Wheat on Its Way to Export” at https://bit.ly/2BrZ1BY.

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Early in 2019, I attended a presentation given by the Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA), Kristin Meira. In the audience were farmers eager to hear how U.S. legislators shared their interests regarding the ongoing navigability of the Columbia Snake River System. Open waterways are a crucial and efficient source for U.S. farmers to export their products to international markets.

The Columbia Snake River System is the leading gateway for wheat exports. The Columbia Rive alone barges 53% of U.S. wheat destined for export. The rivers can move more volume at once, with greater fuel efficiency, making them more effective for moving grain to market than by rail or truck. One barge can carry the same amount as 35 rail cars or 134 18-wheelers. A barge tow can carry more than one 100-unit train or 538 trucks. One barge can move a ton of wheat 647 miles per gallon while a truck can only move a ton of wheat 145 miles per gallon

A Voice for the River System

The PNWA is an active voice in promoting the benefits of keeping the river systems open for navigation. In their own words, the PNWA is a collaboration of ports, businesses, public agencies and individuals who combine their economic and political strength in support of navigation, energy, trade and economic development throughout the Pacific Northwest (PNW). The organization’s history dates back to the projects of the New Deal in 1934. The group, known then as the Inland Empire Waterways Association, petitioned President Roosevelt to fund a navigation lock along the Columbia River just east of Portland, Ore.

Since then, the PNWA has been a leader in securing Congressional authorization for the necessary funds to build another seven locks and dams along both the Snake and Columbia River. The PNWA also works hard to maintain and improve navigability. They advocate for deepening the draft and improving the jetties that allow safe passage into the Columbia River.

Conflicting Interests

The importance of the river system is not lost on the farming community. However, balancing the interests of environmental groups is difficult. Save Our Wild Salmon, an organization with the goal of increasing PNW wild salmon and steelhead populations, advocates for the removal of dams on the Snake River and expanded spillways on the remaining dams. They also want to modernize the Columbia River Treaty with Canada. These changes would include the river’s health as an equal portion of the treaty, which currently only governs energy production and flood management.

Many groups do not place value on the beneficial role that the dams have regarding grain transportation and clean renewable energy. The four dams on the Snake River power up to 800,000 homes while producing zero carbon emissions. Instead, environmental groups focus their argument on enhancing the railroad as a replacement for barge grain transportation. This tactic would take billions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades and would not be as efficient or as environmentally friendly

A Necessary Link

The value of the Columbia Snake River System as a transport hub from farm to market is the link necessary to connect the United States to its trading partners. The river system keeps U.S. wheat competitive by moving higher volumes at more efficient prices. The wheat associations that make up the tri-state region of Idaho, Oregon and Washington all support, through their PNWA membership and resolutions,  the ongoing navigability of the rivers system. There will continue to be controversy surrounding the river system and the rich ecosystem that they sustain. The shared interest between farmers, sportsmen, environmentalists, scientists and commerce are diverse. An organization like PNWA, which has spent more than 80 years advocating for an open river system, is the key to keeping it open for decades to come.

By Michael Anderson, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Assistant Director, West Coast Office