Three federal agencies affirmed July
31 that breaching four Lower Snake River dams in Eastern
Washington would have high social and economic costs and
require Congress to authorize it.
Barges that carry wheat would be
stranded, as would farmers’ irrigation pumps. And electric
rates would rise, as would the chances for power blackouts,
according to a report by the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau
of Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration.
The final environmental statement
impact lays the foundation for a decision in September on
operating 14 federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.
A federal judge in Oregon ordered the environmental review.
The final report mirrors a draft
report released in February. The agencies continued to favor
spilling more water over dams in the spring to help wild
salmon and steelhead protected under the federal Endangered
The agencies rejected pleas from
environmental and fishing groups to breach Lower Granite,
Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams on the
lower Snake River.
The report acknowledged that breaching
the dams would do more for fish. But it also would damage
the federal system’s other uses, such as flood control,
irrigation, navigation, recreation and electricity
The agencies said they couldn’t breach
the dams unless Congress changed their mandate. They said
they studied the option because of the judge’s order and
In a press release, the agencies said
their preferred alternative for managing the rivers complies
with President Trump’s order to secure reliable water
supplies in the West.
Environmental and fishing groups said
they were outraged, urging Congress to intervene and
“The federal plan totally and
completely fails Idaho and isn’t good enough for the many
guides, outfitters, river businesses and communities in
Idaho that depend on healthy runs of fish,” Idaho
Conservation League executive director Justin Hayes said in
“The Trump administration’s reckless
rush to finalize the Columbia Basin hydropower review
process is heartbreaking and immoral,” said Natural
Resources Defense Council senior attorney Giulia Good
Washington Grain Commission CEO Glen
Squires said the report presents all the drawbacks to
breaching dams. He also predicted that farm groups will need
to continue to explain the dams’ benefits.
“It’s probably never going away as an
issue,” he said. “We know there are people constantly
arguing to remove those dams. There obviously has to be
somebody on the other side of the issue.
“The wheat industry is supportive of a
balanced salmon recovery effort. We don’t believe breaching
dams is the answer, and that’s essentially what the federal
agencies concluded as well,” Squires said.
If the four dams were gone, greenhouse
gas emissions would increase, according to the government
report. Natural gas-fired power plants would have to ramp
up, unless more expensive and less reliable wind and solar
power sources were built.
Farmers would be forced to move crops,
mostly wheat, by trucks and trains. Transportation costs for
wheat farmers would increase 10% to 33%, the report
estimates. Irrigation water would be cut off for 48,000
acres, costing farmers $460 million a year in lost sales and
their employees $232 million in lost wages, according to the
“We are pleased to see the agencies
support a preferred alternative that balances clean
hydropower, efficient navigation and critical water supplies
with ongoing salmon recovery efforts,” said Kristin Meira,
Pacific Northwest Waterways Association executive director,
in a press release. “The Columbia and Snake rivers mean many
things to many people in our region, and that includes the
role they play as a significant transportation network for
freight, the cruise industry and much more.”
Press reporter Matthew Weaver contributed to this story.