IRU opposes lower Snake dredging plan

Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake River is collecting silt. The Army Corps of Engineers wants taxpayers to pay $3.2 million per year so that barges can continue to navigate this and three other reservoirs on the lower Snake River.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in December released a 1,500-page draft environmental study detailing measures it plans to implement to remove sediment from the lower Snake River corridor and, in particular, from the reservoir behind Lower Granite Dam.

At a cost of $3.2 million per year – almost $20,000 per barge navigating the lower Snake River – it’s an expensive proposition for maintaining the under-utilized water ports and bad news for our salmon and steelhead. The Corps extended the comment deadline on its $16 million Draft Lower Snake River Programmatic Sediment Management Plan to March 26, so there’s still time to comment. (Click here to email comments.)

“This document is wrought with numbers that don’t add up and an enormous price tag for taxpayers, who are being asked to pay for this,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “It’s not fiscally sustainable. In a time of dwindling federal dollars a subsidy of this magnitude isn’t practical or defensible, particularly when there are alternative ways to move goods to and from Lewiston.”

An earlier effort by federal agencies to codify dredging on the lower Snake resulted in a 2002 complaint filed by regional conservation groups, including IRU. That lawsuit resulted in an injunction preventing the Corps from initiating dredging activities pending further legal consideration. On Sept. 8, 2005, parties signed a settlement agreeing to maintenance dredging while the Corps went back to work on a new long-term sediment management EIS, the draft document now in question.

“The Corps is looking for a way to solve the problems it created when it built the lower Snake River dams,” Lewis said. “It’s looking to accomplish this by dredging at an ongoing cost of $3.2 million per year. At current shipping rates this amounts to an $18,900 subsidy per barge leaving the Port of Lewiston.”

Lewis said current marine transports leaving the Port of Lewiston are less than 25 percent of what they were in 2000, and there’s no sign of them increasing. For every barge that passes Lower Granite Dam, the American taxpayer is being asked to reach into their pockets for nearly $20,000 in subsidies while the same goods could be shipped on rail next to the river with no subsidy at all.

“Use of the lower Snake River for the transport of goods and services is directly responsible for the decline of Idaho’s salmon and steelhead,” Lewis said. “Using the existing rail infrastructure would be more efficient, incur no expense to taxpayers and could help restore salmon and steelhead. This draft EIS fails to consider the impacts of dredging on salmon and steelhead.”

Here are some comments you might consider submitting to the Corps:

  • In these times of limited federal dollars, it’s absurd for taxpayers to subsidize barging when the same cargo could be more efficiently transported on existing railroad. The Corps should conduct an honest cost-benefit analysis that determines the benefits of this proposal outweigh the costs.
  • The effects of dredging, including dumping dredge spoils into the reservoirs, may threaten Endangered Species Act-listed stocks of salmon and steelhead, which are in the system year-round.
  • Increased sediment load due to large forest fires – a result of climate change – will increase the flood risk to the city of Lewiston and would require an endless and unsustainable cycle of dredging at an ongoing cost to taxpayers.

Comments on the draft report are due March 26, 2013.

Email comments to

Snail mail comments to:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla District
201 North Third Avenue, Walla Walla WA 99362-1876

  • Click here to read the Corps’ draft.
  • Click here to read an independent economic analysis on the draft EIS written by IRU member Linwood Laughey.