Dredging plans stall on the Snake River

  By now, the dredging machinery would have been sucking 319,000 cubic yards of sand and silt from the bottom of the Snake River west of Lewiston, Idaho. Barges would be hauling the muck downriver and dumping it out of the way. Then tugboats would have dragged giant rakes across the spoils, trying to recreate habitat for salmon and steelhead.

All that disturbance would have kept the river channel at least 14 feet deep, to accommodate commercial barge traffic from the busy inland seaport at Lewiston, which ships 1 million tons of farmers’ grain per year.

Last fall, the Army Corps of Engineers OK’d this dredging plan in an environmental impact statement. The dredging season was to run from January through March, this year and for another 19 years.

But environmental groups, including the National Wildlife Federation, sued to stop the project, saying it would harm habitat for fish that are already in trouble. U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik in Seattle agreed in December, and issued a temporary injunction that effectively delays any dredging, at least until this time next year.

There are better solutions, the groups say, including using spring flows and reservoir drawdowns to flush sediments past dams, and reforming upriver agricultural and timber practices that create sediment. Their opinion is shared by state wildlife agencies and Indian tribes.

Federal engineers “didn’t really consider all of the alternatives to dredging,” says Bill Sedivy, director of Idaho Rivers United.
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