SPOKANE, Wash. -- Breaching four dams on the Snake River to aid salmon recovery would likely raise the cost of shipping wheat to market by 28 percent, according to a new report.
The transportation study was one of three recently released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is considering a proposal to breach Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams. All four are in Washington.
Rising shipping costs could force some families off their land, said Glen Squires of the Washington Wheat Commission.
``A lot of farmers are losing money right now,'' Squires said. ``You add another 20 or 30 cents (of costs per bushel), it would just exacerbate the problem.''
A second study predicted there was no practical way to continue supplying water to 37,000 acres of farmland. The 13 farms irrigated by water drawn from behind Ice Harbor Dam include the fourth and 11th largest taxpayers in Walla Walla County, with hundreds of employees.
The third study indicated Northwest homeowners could expect to pay $1.50 to $5.30 more for electricity each month, as the Bonneville Power Administration turned to more expensive sources of electricity to replace the 1,200 megawatts generated by the dams.
Big electricity users, like aluminum smelters, could see six-figure increases in their monthly bills, the study said.
The three studies commissioned by the corps are part of a $32 million study of alternatives to save endangered salmon and steelhead runs along the Snake River. The Corps is expected to release the entire study -- along with a recommendation on breaching -- in October.
The corps built the dams in the 1960s and 1970s, primarily so barges could ply the river. Since then, barges have replaced trucks and trains as the primary transportation for most wheat grown in the Palouse.
Boise economist Tony Jones said farmers who live closest to the river -- and enjoy the lowest costs now -- would see the biggest increases.
Environmentalists note that federal taxpayers subsidize river traffic. Some groups contend that the money the corps spends on dredging and other work to keep the Snake open for barges could be used to offset increased costs for farmers.
The irrigation study concluded that eliminating the water supply would reduce the value of farm land by about $194 million. By comparison, it could cost as much as $300 million to modify irrigation systems to work in an undammed river.
``This stretch of the river ... would meander over time and potentially affect the availability of water and/or erode new pump stations,'' the report said.
Only Ice Harbor Dam provides irrigation. Among its beneficiaries are Broetje Orchards and Snake River Vineyards, which together paid nearly $700,000 in county property taxes in 1998.
According to Broetje's Internet Web page, the orchard grows apples and cherries on 4,000 acres and has 650 full-time employees, some of whom live in an 80-home community on the orchard.
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