Northeast Oregon is home to some of the most rich and fertile farmland in the state, producing products like potatoes, onion, carrots, peas and numerous other variety of crops for consumption here at home and for export around the globe. This region also leads the world in irrigation technologies and water sustainability.
The four lower Snake River dams play a vital role in sustaining this corner of the state, and our regional stakeholders have a long history of working together to preserve and enhance local salmon populations. That’s why I was disappointed to learn that after joining the governors of Washington, Idaho and Montana in a collaborative effort to rebuild Columbia Basin salmon, Gov. Kate Brown filed a lawsuit over the federal government’s management of the four lower Snake River dams.
I’ve been involved in the fish versus dams debate for nearly three decades, and lawsuits have gotten us nowhere. The only way forward is through working together toward a collaborative long-term solution. I hope Brown will set aside her lawsuit and work to make the four-state process a success.
The agriculture sector relies on the four lower Snake River dams for hydropower, transportation and irrigation. The dams are a significant part of the federal hydropower system, which provides as much as 95% of the clean, reliable and affordable power essential to families, farmers, ranchers and businesses in rural Oregon. According to a recent three-year study of Snake River dams completed by the federal government, removal could result in an energy price hike in rural Oregon of up to 50%, which adds up to several hundred dollars per year for each rural family.
Farm operations and related agriculture industries and manufacturing are the backbone of our Umatilla and Morrow counties’ economy, employing nearly 40% of local residents and producing crops and products that are barged down the Columbia River for export to world markets.
However, the federal study determined that removing the dams would make the Snake River unnavigable for barge traffic, resulting in higher production costs for farmers who would have to transition to rail or truck transport. Under this scenario, freight transportation by rail could increase by as much as 86% — a level that is too high for existing rail capacity.
The transition from barge to surface transportation would also result in more traffic congestion and the need for road and rail infrastructure improvements. Truck and rail transportation create higher emissions per ton than barges, which would result in a net increase in CO2 emissions of approximately 17% — taking us in the wrong direction as the state is working to meet its clean energy goals.
With an average annual rainfall of less than 8 inches per year, our region is also dependent on the river for local water supply. Removal of four Snake River dams in Washington state would have an especially long-term adverse impact on operations of existing Columbia River pump stations in the lower McNary and John Day pools in Northeast Oregon, as 50 years of sediments will be now deposited in the irrigation intakes downstream. This negative impact is in addition to much more expensive or even nonexisting barging for our products as well as higher energy costs.
Over the last 30 years, the Eastern Oregon irrigation community had a respectful and open dialogue with our past governors (Roberts, Kitzhaber and Kulongoski) and we ask Gov. Brown to commit to the process by listening and understanding our local agricultural concerns as well as all river stakeholders so that she can develop a collaborative approach to protecting salmon without harming the rural economy.
We are committed to a respectful, open minded and solution-oriented dialogue with Gov. Brown and her staff.