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Commentaries and editorials

Writer Responds to
Snake River Dam Op-ed

by Paulette Wittwer
Capital Press, August 21, 2023

Federal subsidies have made barging a bargain
for farmers since the dams were built.

The Columbia River System, which includes the Snake River linking to Lewiston, Idaho, is a critical navigation system for shipping wheat downriver to Portland and export markets. (Tidewater photo) In an August 15 op-ed, "Breaching Snake Rivers Dams Puts Farmers at Risk," there are many questionable claims using fear tactics. According to the authors, without the four dams, problems with irrigation and transporting wheat would harm local farmers and send many family farms into bankruptcy.

In reality, only Ice Harbor Dam provides irrigation. The majority of farms that irrigate are not small or family farms; 79% are owned by corporate entities such as Hancock Natural Resource Group of Boston and the Mormon Church.

Furthermore, proposals to lower intake structures, create additional pumping capacity and/or deepen wells are part of proposed federal mitigation to protect irrigation.

Federal subsidies have made barging a bargain for farmers since the dams were built. We taxpayers pay around $40,000 to subsidize each barge load.

When the dams were proposed in 1949, the Washington State Department of Fisheries wrote: "The development of dams would remove part of the cost of waterbourne shipping ... and place it on the taxpayer, jeopardizing more than one-half of the Columbia River salmon in exchange for 148 miles of subsidized barge route."

In spite of subsidies, freight transportation on the lower Snake has dropped by 45% in the last 20 years and many farmers now use rail or trucks.

As the daughter of a Willamette Valley Vocational Ag teacher, I was raised to value family farms. I, and many others, support measures to protect those farms.

I also value our salmon. Steps must be taken to protect them too. This year commercial fishing for chinook salmon is closed in Oregon and California; chinook are swiftly approaching levels so low they are "uncertain to persist." All previous steps to recover the fish have failed.

The one step left is dam breaching. As Representative Simpson of Idaho states, "I know salmon recovery won't happen without it."

Paulette Wittwer, Portland and Parkdale, Oregon
Writer Responds to Snake River Dam Op-ed
Capital Press, August 21, 2023

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