Snake Dredging Hits a Snagby Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, January 8, 2002
Federal efforts to dredge the lower Snake River have run into stiff opposition from environmental groups, who are trying to use rising sediment levels to force dam removal.
The environmental coalition filed official comments Monday afternoon that call into question the need for dredging the Snake to aid barge traffic between Pasco and Lewiston, Idaho -- something industry leaders say is necessary.
Dredging also is needed to reduce the risk of floods overflowing levees in Lewiston, where sediment is of most concern, according to the Corps of Engineers, which developed the dredging plan.
"The Corps' proposal will harm salmon and steelhead already suffering from past mismanagement of the river and will not solve the long-term problem of sediment accumulation behind Lower Granite Dam," said a coalition of environmental groups in a news release Monday, the final day for comments.
Last winter, the Corps of Engineers aimed to remove 244,000 cubic yards of sediment from the Snake, mostly at its confluence with the Clearwater River at the Idaho-Washington line.
But those plans got snarled in opposition from the National Marine Fisheries Service, Indian tribes and environmental groups that feared the project would harm the salmon habitat.
Then the Corps dropped plans to dredge this winter, saying it wanted to finish its dredging plan to keep the riverbed free of obstacles for the next 20 years. The agency hopes to have its plan in place in time to dredge next winter.
Shippers are getting antsy. More than a year ago, a Corps officials said "it would be prudent" to start dredging. And last year, barges had to take lighter loads because of high spots in the riverbed, something they are expected to have to do again this year.
But environmentalists appear committed to obstructing the Corps' plan, even though agency officials boast that it offers substantial benefits to young fish. Critics say the Corps should have evaluated other options, such as continued light loading of barges, as the river bottom continues to rise.
"The Corps' proposal is an expensive Band-Aid for a much larger problem with the lower Snake River dams and the harm they cause both to salmon and to communities like Lewiston," said Bert Bowler, staff scientist at Idaho Rivers United in Boise.
And they propose another even more controversial option that would greatly reduce barging on the lower Snake -- breaching Lower Granite Dam, the easternmost dam on the lower Snake. Without the dam, the sediment would wash down and river levels would drop to where they aren't a threat to residents.
Bowler said that is "the best long-term, safest, and most cost-effective way out of this predicament."
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs