Group Says Farmers must be Compensatedby Wendy Culverwell
American Rivers stepped up its campaign Monday to make dam breaching more palatable to farmers.
American Rivers - a national conservation group which supports breaching the four Lower Snake River dams to improve salmon habitat - proposed that a new irrigation system be installed to deliver water to farmland at risk of drying up if Ice Harbor Dam is removed.
The federal government, possibly in partnership with regional governments, should foot the bill, said the group's report.
An estimated 37,000 acres of farmland in Franklin and Walla Walla counties stand to lose access to water for their crops if the dam is breached.
Water currently is pumped from a series of pumping stations at the Ice Harbor pool. If the dam is removed, the existing pumps would be left to suck on air and vast irrigation systems would be rendered useless.
Without a new system, the value of the land would plummet.
American Rivers did not propose what sort of system should be built to keep the water flowing. However, it did quote a preliminary Army Corps of Engineers report that estimates the cost to replace the existing pumps with a consolidated pumphouse at nearly $300 million.
The same study noted the river would be shallow and meandering in that area, making it very expensive to operate any kind of pumping facility. But the report did not address how the irrigation systems would deal with the tons of sediment expected to cloud the river for years.
Corps officials cautioned the report is still subject to review.
"You're not going to save salmon by crushing the economies of the Northwest," said Justin Hayes, associate director of public policy for American Rivers.
The proposal from American Rivers comes as people on both sides of the breaching issue wait for the corps to release a draftfeasibility report and environmental impact statement on ways to improve salmon migration through the lower Snake River.
It could recommend the four dams be partially removed.
Corps spokesman Dutch Meier said the study is due out in mid-December.
Unlike Ice Harbor Dam, the other three lower Snake structures do not provide water for irrigation from their reservoirs. They are the Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams.
Hayes said his group supports taking steps to mitigate the impact of dam removal on local communities. Monday's statement put that philosophy in writing, he said.
American Rivers recently released a report that said investment in highways and railroad would keep grain transportation rates affordable in the event of dam breaching.
The new irrigation recommendation, like the grain transport report, is tightly focused on a single issue, in this case the 37,000 acres that are directly irrigated with water from behind Ice Harbor Dam.
The proposal does not address the estimated 13,000 acres of farmland that depend on water from wells that could dry up if the dam is breached.
The irrigation proposal also does not address the issue of municipalities and businesses that usewater pumped from reservoirs.
Hayes said American Rivers isn't looking for the least expensive solution, and it doesn't want to see rural economies devastated by salmon recovery.
Compensating landowners for the lost value of their land, about $134 million, is far less than $300 million for a new intake system that would allow the farms to continue to operate, do business in their communities and employ people, he said.
"The cheapest way possible is probably just to purchase the land out from under those farmers," he said.
Irrigation After Partial Removal of the Four Lower Snake River Dams
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