the film
Commentaries and editorials

Why We Support Keeping
the Snake River Dams

by Jeff Van Pevenage
Capital Press, July 15, 2021

Graphic: Recent Downriver Grain Shipments on the Snake River (2000 - 2019) We add our voice to those who support maintaining the Lower Snake River Dams.

Here at Columbia Grain International we have been supplying the world with grain, pulses, edible beans and oilseeds for over four decades. Our supply chain stretches across the northern tier of the United States from North Dakota to Washington, cultivating the growth of our farmers’ crops to safely nourish the world.

We operate nine grain elevators in Eastern Washington, own or participate in loading grain at 3 Lower Snake River terminals, and are the majority owner in 2 export terminals in the Columbia River District. It’s an understatement to say that we have a vested interest in this topic.

Removing the Lower Snake River dams as part of Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson’s $33.5 billion framework doesn’t promise to bring back Idaho’s salmon, but it will have devastating effects on our farmers who rely on this river system to successfully transport their crops to key export terminals to supply the international markets.

The Columbia River System is the nation’s single largest wheat export gateway, transporting 50% of all U.S. wheat to markets overseas. The Northwest Infrastructure Proposal will slow international trade including the distribution of wheat, soy, corn, wood, autos, mineral bulks and cruise tourism, and has the potential to eradicate the 40,000 local jobs that are dependent on this trade.

For us, it will endanger the economic viability of at least two Portland-based export terminals, which rely heavily on barges and don’t have the land footprint to expand rail placement capacity.

The removal of the dams will cause transportation methods to shift towards truck and rail, creating greater instability in freight costs, and exposing farmers to potentially higher transportation costs for grain shipments to destination markets, particularly during the fall when corn and soybean shipments from the Midwest are heavy.

The evidence is clear. If the dams are breached, our farmers will be paying more and making less at the end of the day.

For over 40 years, the Columbia Snake River System has successfully served our communities, providing our regions with clean power, jobs, efficient transportation, irrigation, flood control and more. It is critical now more than ever to keep this region stable and competitive in a time of global economic and social uncertainties. We are committed to cultivating the continued growth of our farmers and our PNW communities, and have serious doubts about the inherent cons which we feel drastically outweigh the pros of this proposal.

Proponents of the proposal argue that removing the dams is necessary to restore salmon population. However, studies show that salmon survival rates may be greater now than if no dams existed. This all goes back to the life cycle of fish, and the fact that they spend most of their lives in the ocean. As we learn more about ocean conditions from NOAA Fisheries, West Coast wild salmon and steelhead runs are struggling, and the commonality is the ocean.

When considering dam removal, I’ve studied the statistics which came from 40 years of research by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration, and were compiled by retired Fish and Wildlife biologist John McKern. McKern spent much of his 30-year career researching fish survival, and developing and implementing fish passage improvements at the Snake and Columbia river dams. He found that after the fish leave the Columbia River about 88% of the remaining fish die during their first two or three years in the ocean from predators, adverse ocean conditions and commercial fishing.

The Frazier River in Canada is very similar to the Columbia River system. It and other rivers along the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada have no dams and have the same fish problems as the Columbia River system.

Currently, we have done quite well stewarding fish and protecting them every step of the way as they move and make their journey on the river. Removing the dams will have grave implications for our vital farm communities that depend on this transportation system to feed the world. We hope people consider that there are a lot of other things taking place that are impacting our fish.

Jeff Van Pevenage is president and CEO of Columbia Grain International, the leading supplier of bulk grain, pulses, edible beans, oilseeds, both conventional and organic, worldwide.
Why We Support Keeping the Snake River Dams
Capital Press, July 15, 2021

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