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Displacement theory: Environmental and agricultural use of the Columbia

Leonard Waggoner is a commercial business developer. He lives in Scappoose.


During the past 20 years there has come to be an acknowledgement of the issue of global warming by not only the predominant environmental scientists of the United States, but the world as well.

Global warming represents a multitude of issues, including increasing elevation of the oceans, extreme drought, excessive exposure to solar rays and countless other health concerns.

Water, not only for human consumption, but for industrial, recreation and — most importantly — agricultural production is the key to human survival.

Water flowing from great expanses of drainage area such as the Columbia Basin, beginning in British Columbia, Canada, and completing its 700-mile journey at Astoria, where the river meets the Pacific Ocean, is the greatest waste of a natural asset that could be imagined; once fresh river water is enjoined with salt water, it is no longer fresh water and its use is compromised.

This article is an attempt to look past the current regulations and make those parties in charge responsible for generating new and innovative solutions to the global warming issue.

There have been and are constant requests for water rights, the term for access to river water by pumping for both communities as well as industrial farms. At this juncture there is a very limited cubic feet per second, or CFS, being extracted from the natural river flow.

The Columbia River system is actually a collection of regional rivers enjoining to create a great mechanical force that is harvested by a series of dams managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Rivers such as the Snake, from Idaho; the Deschutes, from Central Oregon; the Willamette, from the west side of the Cascade Mountain range in Western Oregon; and the addition of dozens of feeder rivers and creeks make up a large portion of the Columbia’s system.

The various rivers of the Columbia River system are spawning grounds to a variety of both ocean-growing as well as residential fish, the most widely renowned being salmon and all of its subspecies.

Protection of the migration to and from the Pacific Ocean is the primary responsibility of the various Fish and Game administrations of Canada, the United States goverment and the states adjacent to the river — Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Fish traverse (migrate) over the hydroelectric-generating dams on the Columbia River system through a series of fish ladders allowing a significant number of seasonal returning fish to finish their life cycle in their spawning waters.

Periodically, water flow is increased in the Columbia System to allow for an expanded numbers of fish to proceed on their migration.

The most important flow controls and functions on the Columbia River drainage is for river transportation of ships and barges. Now, we realize that the Corps of Engineers will argue that its primary function is not shipping but flood control for spring runoff, but it’s hard to accept that premise considering the Corps recently completed an excavation of 4 feet in depth, 104 miles in length and 1,200 feet in width so that, according the Corps, super tankers and super freighters could travel from the mouth of the river at Astoria to Portland, the shipping and trade center of the Columbia River system. The Corps has denied that any additional waters are necessary to fill the river shipping base; however, looking at the mechanical function of its 4-foot dredging, in order to keep the prior river’s edge water elevation it would require the replacement of their excavation (4’ X 104 miles X 1,200’) to be replaced with waters released from the dam system, notably the Bonneville Dam.

Daily, billions of gallons of water flow freely into the Pacific Ocean, water that could and should be used for irrigation of crops. The 2012 drought in the Midwest illustrated the level of irrigation shortfall that could eventually create another Dust Bowl.

It is our responsibility as human beings to create solutions to offset the ever-increasing natural disasters resulting from global warming. If the Midwest is really the bread basket to the world, what happens when that fertile soil can no longer be productive due to the lack of irrigation? I believe it will result in worldwide hunger.

The United States can, for some period, import foodstuffs at premium prices, followed by the inevitable crisis when the source of those imports also declines due to climate changes.

So how do we, as intelligent human beings, resolve the critical issues of water flow and global warming in a rational manner, perhaps creating a solution that resolves both issues at the same time?

Starting with water flow, let us consider the possibility of filling certain non navigable portions of the Columbia River, below Bonneville Dam, with jetty-sized rock (6’-10’ diameter) creating underwater reefs that displace the requirement for portions of the current river flow. These reefs would provide natural habitat for aquatic life, could serve to slow the natural flow of the river, create channelization that would benefit navigation and, because of the depth of the jetty placement in the river, would never obstruct commercial or recreational traffic.

Simple calculations of the cubic displacement created by these reefs will display the offset capacity for necessary water flow. By constructing a reef 100 yards in length, 15 feet in vertical depth and tapering back toward the bank for a distance of 75 feet, one reef this size, by my calculations, would result in 782,595 gallons of displacement and 68.8 million gallons of displacement per hour.

The development of 45 pipes, each 1,000 miles long with an inside diameter of 5 feet, would cover all of the required water flow to keep those systems servicing water for both human consumption as well as for agricultural and industrial usage in the destination communities.

Each comparable displacement in the Columbia River would allow for the extraction of 37 million gallons of water daily without affecting the river flow for navigation or fisheries, annually that amounts to thirteen billion gallons of water. Each of these projects could represent 10 percent of the total pressured irrigation water usage in the United States or 4 million acres feet of water.

Leonard Waggoner is a commercial business developer. He lives in Scappoose.