2004/05 Winter Dredgingby WWC Staff
Wheat Life, April, 2004
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) proposal to dredge at nine locations in the Lower Granite and Little Goose Reservoirs in the Lower Snake and Clearwater Rivers in Washington and Idaho continues to move forward. Eighty percent of the work is to take place at the confl uence of the Snake/Clearwater Rivers (see table). The purpose is to restore the authorized depth of the federally authorized navigation channel, remove sediment from port areas, and provide for recreational use. The dredging work would be performed during the in-water work window of December 15 through March 1, a period of time between salmon migration seasons.
The Corps expects to have all information compiled and available by early April for a decision document regarding this critically needed maintenance dredging. The Corps will then present the information to the court for a determination on the status of the preliminary injunction that stopped the same dredging work during the 2003/04-work window. If the injunction is removed, then preparations for dredging next winter can proceed.
The National Wildlife Federation, on behalf of Idaho Rivers United, the Sierra Club, Save our Wild Salmon, Pacifi c Coast Federation of Fishermans’ Associations, Idaho Wildlife Federation, Washington Wildlife Federation, and the Institute of Fisheries Resources fi led suit and brought to a halt the 2003/04 dredging. The same groups, along with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, strongly oppose the work, once again contending the Corps has not adequately evaluated all other options besides dredging to remove sediment from the river. The options include sediment erosion control, drawdown and fl ushing of sediments, light loading of barges, and exploration of other means of transportation.
In a recent public meeting, the Corps presented data showing that dredging is considered the only viable method in the near term for removing material that has caused the navigation channel to fall below the 14 feet authorized by Congress. The complete turning basin for barge tows, near the confl uence of the Snake/Clearwater, is now below 14 feet. Several areas are shallower. Sediment issues were described, along with effects of drawdown and flushing.
The Corps presented information on dredging procedures, and how the work would account for threatened or endangered salmon and actually create spawning habitat for salmon with in-river disposal of the dredged material. The Corps plans to monitor the river, 300 feet above and below a given dredge site, as well as 600 feet and 1200 feet below the site to ensure no harm to salmon. Monitoring will occur during in-water work and the Corps will begin monitoring one hour before and one hour after dredging.
Currently, there are nearly a dozen areas of the river where towboat operators are working to avoid due to shallow depth. Cruise ships have either stopped operating or are unloading passengers in other areas. For grain, the Corps estimates failure to dredge in the 2004/05 in-river work window could translate into a 10-cent per bushel cost—far beyond grower, shipper and exporter margins. The national economic cost is a preliminary $2.7-million.
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