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Harvest 2020 at Deardorff Farms in Colville.
Photo by Jayson Deardorff

Wilbur-Ellis

POLICY

Answers can be found if stakeholders work together

Editor’s note: During Rep. Simpson’s conference call, Alex McGregor, chairman of The McGregor Company, asked a question about alternatives for replacing Snake River barge transports, both for grain headed downstream for market and crop nutrients shipped upstream that need to be delivered in a very short window of time so planting isn’t delayed. The congressman’s response didn’t address the question, instead claiming that the number of bushels of grain going down the river are decreasing and asking for better ideas. He also pointed to the fact that salmon are a great source of nutrients that come upriver, get returned to the mountains and then get washed out by the snow. We offered Alex the opportunity to respond to Rep. Simpson’s response.

April 2021
By Alex McGregor
Chairman, The McGregor Company


Rep. Simpson, we appreciate you sharing your concept of breaching the four lower Snake River dams and the substantial monies you indicated would be necessary to limit the pain it would cause.

You requested alternatives. We suggest it is quite possible to offer hope for salmon while also addressing your feeling that “all the benefits [of the dams] go to Washington.”

A just-released NOAA Fisheries report highlights the biggest challenge for salmon—projected temperature increases in the Pacific Ocean from climate change. While all options are worth consideration, the scientists concluded “management actions that open new quality salmon habitat, improve productivity within the existing habitat or reduce mortality through direct or indirect efforts in the ocean are badly needed.” Farm families have made big strides in helping with habitat, fine tuning best management practices, reducing soil erosion 85 percent and helping improve water quality on river tributaries. We are concerned that when we ship our crops to ocean-going ports, air quality and greenhouse gas emissions will head in the wrong direction with the concept you suggest. Inland barges carry a ton of freight 514 miles per gallon of fuel, trains 202, trucks 59. Both alternatives to barging create far more CO2 and damaging air particulate emissions as well.

Instead of spending tens of billions of dollars to transform an efficient transportation system into some sort of makeshift alternative, replacing hydropower with not-yet developed storage systems for wind or solar or forcing those dependent on reliable irrigation water to make do with something less, instead of all of this, we can work together to do something constructive. Salmon once had fertile spawning grounds along the north Clearwater and along hundreds of miles of the Snake River upstream from Lewiston.

We hope you will consider funding fish passage for dams upstream that today have none. Adding fish ladders to Idaho Power’s Hells Canyon complex of three dams on the Snake would be expensive and challenging, but surely less than disrupting lives and livelihoods across the Inland Northwest. Adding fish passage to several dams in your district would further extend fish habitat so badly needed. As American Rivers has noted, the Hells Canyon dams block 80 percent of access to the historic habitat for Snake River fall chinook. In 2005, the National Marine Fisheries Service estimated it would take $100 million to install fish ladders and other passages at Idaho Power’s three-dam system. Even adjusted for inflation, $100 million is a manageable amount compared to $34 billion. Investing money to remove the upstream fish blockages could bring financial benefits and jobs to your district and recreational fishing opportunities one day, as well. Doing so would help salmon, too. As the scientists put it, “habitat offers hope.”

By restoring substantial salmon habitat and investing considerable amounts of money for construction in your district and beyond, more revenue comes to Idaho, and we all benefit from improving prospects for our iconic fish. As farm families with a deep heritage here, we urge you to return those now-blocked waterways to salmon rearing. We appreciate your stated desire to be open to constructive ideas and feedback so we can move forward. On that, we agree. While there are clearly no “silver bullets” to a complex set of challenges, we hope you will work with us to address those challenges while keeping Northwest agriculture, families, businesses and our export economy on firm footing and expanding vital fish habitat in the process. We believe that by working together we can find constructive, not draconian, answers to the challenges we face across this remarkable land.