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

Wilbur-Ellis

POLICY

Dam champions

State, national agricultural leaders take part in dam advocacy tour

July 2021

Leaders and staff of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) joined with other agricultural industry stakeholders in Lewiston, Idaho, in June to highlight the importance of the lower Snake River dams. The group also discussed the region’s concerns about Rep. Mike Simpson’s (R-Idaho) $33 billion proposal to breach the dams, toured Lower Granite Dam and visited the Lewis-Clark Terminal at the Port of Lewiston.

Michelle Hennings, WAWG’s executive director, said one of the highlights of the tour was learning how Lower Granite Dam worked and the research and technology the staff there uses to facilitate fish passage, including fish ladders and fish monitoring.

“This is definitely something we need to showcase to Congress and our legislators. They need to take a tour and see what is being accomplished at Lower Granite Dam. Dams and salmon can coexist, and this is the perfect example. If we could implement this level of effort at all the dams on the Snake River, it would be a win-win situation,” she said, adding the staff at the dam did a fantastic job explaining how everything worked.

Zippy Duval, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, as well as Farm Bureau leaders and staff from Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington, all participated in the tour. Duval addressed the group, telling them he didn’t think it made sense to tear out dams that were providing jobs. He suggested, instead, that a smaller amount of money than what Simpson is proposing could be used for research and development as a way to effectively restore salmon populations.

The group also heard from Chandler Goule, CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG). Goule warned that Simpson’s proposal is gaining steam in Congress, and it’s possible that the Congressman will try to insert the funding into a future appropriations bill without introducing any legislation.

Once the money is allocated, Goule believes it will be easier for Simpson’s proposal to tear down the dams to pass.

Previous to the river tour, Goule spent a day in Eastern Washington, seeing firsthand the effects of the drought on wheat, lentils and bluegrass seed at WAWG Past President Marci Green’s Spokane County farm.

In all, more than 40 stakeholders took part in the tour, including wheat industry leaders from Idaho, Montana and Oregon; Michael Seyfert, president and CEO of the National Grain and Feed Association; Jeff Van Pevenage, CEO from Columbia Grain International in Portland; representatives from regional grain handling facilities; and area businesses.

Ryan Poe, WAWG president, was also on the tour. He said it was gratifying to have representatives from national agricultural organizations at the event showing their support for the industries that utilize the dams, including the wheat industry. He hopes they’ll take the story of the importance of the dams back to Washington, D.C., and include that in their messaging.

“We need to get people out here and do this type of activity with as many congressional delegates and staff as we can,” he said. “The Pacific Northwest wheat industry needs to tell their story, and the importance of barging on the Snake River is a critical part of that.”

If the lower Snake River dams were breached, it would make barging untenable on the Snake River. To replace the shipping capacity of a four-barge tow would require approximately 150 railcars or 538 semitrucks. Nearly 10 percent of all U.S. wheat exports move by barge just on the Snake River.

“Barging is the cleanest, most carbon-friendly mode of transportation available to us,” Hennings said. “With all the emphasis on carbon reduction and climate change, why would we replace that mode of transportation with others that produce more carbon and increase the wear and tear on our roads and railways?”