Be it exporting the millions of tons of wheat harvested by local farmers, transporting essential cargo, or cultivating Eastern Washington’s growing tourism industry, our community relies on its waterways in order to thrive. We need a healthy “river highway” in order to foster a healthy economy – yet our federal navigation channel on the Lower Snake River has not been maintained since 2005.
While I am pleased the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing much-awaited maintenance dredging on the Lower Snake River in the coming months, this marks a good opportunity to reflect on the value our river system brings to Eastern Washington and the nation.
Without the Columbia Snake River System, our goods simply wouldn’t compete as well in the global marketplace – and our local economy and jobs would suffer. Ultimately it is the barging through the Columbia and Snake River dams that enables the Pacific Northwest to export millions of tons of wheat and other cargo. And it is the barging that both keeps these goods competitively prices and enables significant fuel efficiencies. While inland navigation stretches 360 miles from Vancouver, WA to Clarkston, WA, these dams are the gateways to transporting these goods.
The Corps plans to perform targeted maintenance dredging where sand has built up in the federal navigation channel. When sand settles in parts of the channel, it impacts the ability to safely navigate the waterway, meaning Northwest goods can’t be fully loaded on barges, resulting in a loss of efficiency and competitiveness. If these barges are not well maintained, our community will be forced to turn to other means of transportation – means that are both inefficient and less effective. In fact, for every barge kept off of the river, 134 new trucks would be on the road, adding congestion and potential accidents to our roadways.
This is why it is so important that this dredging project is funded and ready to move forward. The Corps of Engineers has even noted that the sand removed from the navigation channel can be used further downstream for juvenile salmon habitat – making this the kind of project the region can support, with benefits for both the environment and our local economy.
We have been making great progress regarding our iconic Northwest salmon – because the collaborative efforts between our states, tribes, federal partners, local landowners, and others are making a difference in the health of our river system. And we have come together to make smart choices for our river – choices that give us so much in return, including renewable, zero-emission hydropower, water for our crops, efficient transportation, healthy fish and incredible recreational opportunities. I join with many others in the region in celebrating historic high returns of adult fish for many of our salmon runs.
Ultimately, our Columbia and Snake River locks, dams, and navigation channels are critical national assets which have supported rural communities like ours for decades. With targeted investment and maintenance, we know they will create jobs and build our local economy for many years to come.