Agriculture representatives say a recent study that calls for removing four dams from the Lower Snake River relies on outdated and flawed data.
“They start with flawed information and a flawed premise,” said Kristin Meira, director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association.
Meira disputes the study’s suggestion that a non-use value of the river can be quantified, especially when compared to the value of the products moved on the river, the impact on farmers and renewable hydropower.
In its report on the economic tradeoffs of removing the Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams, economic consulting firm ECONorthwest claimed:
• The lock system that supports shipments of goods by barge on the Lower Snake River operates at a net loss.
• The cost of replacing irrigation infrastructure is comparatively inexpensive.
• Removing the Lower Snake River Dams will be expensive and generate substantial positive economic impacts in the region.
“Benefits accruing to the public from a restored natural river system and a reduced extinction risk of wild salmon outweigh the net costs of removing the dams by over $8.6 billion,” the study states.
Much of the data used in the study is outdated or from unreliable sources, including from a group committed to Snake River dam removal, Meira said.
The study hasn’t gained much traction for decision makers because it doesn’t follow the procedures federal agencies must follow under the National Environmental Policy Act , she said.
Those agencies are already studying the effects 14 dams have on fish and other species as part of Columbia River systems operations. A draft environmental impact statement is due in February.
“We just don’t see (the ECONorthwest study) being a useful part of the conversation,” Meira said. “When you have flawed data coming in, the conclusions that result are unreliable.”
“The report is dismissive of the fact that wheat growers in the Palouse may have a significant increase in the cost of getting their product to market,” said Don Schwerin, chairman of the Washington State Democrats agricultural and rural issues caucus. “That is simply not acceptable.”
Schwerin said the report is flawed, but ag needs to take it seriously.
He cited a Save Our Wild Salmon survey, which indicates that “solid majorities” of Washington voters, about 63%, would spend up to $7 per month on their electric bill to restore wild salmon and improve water quality.
“It tells us that there is a genuine threat that the statewide majority could override the interests of Eastern and Central Washington,” he said.
The caucus will hold a forum about possible effects of dam removal on barges and rail before Christmas, Schwerin said.
Tours that allow legislators to actually see the dams and salmon survival rates are more helpful, said Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission.
“It’s almost like the study was designed to get a lot of media hype about dams and breaching, just to keep the whole breaching idea out in the media,” Squires said.