WALLA WALLA -- Navigation locks on the Columbia and Snake rivers will go back into operation this month following several months of repairs.
The Army Corps of Engineers closed the locks Dec. 10 to replace gates at three dams and complete maintenance at other locations, marking the longest shutdown in the history of the Columbia and Snake river system. The locks usually are closed for about two or three weeks annually for routine maintenance.
The locks at Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental Little Goose and Lower Granite dams on the Snake River will go back into service March 15. On the Columbia River, the locks at McNary Dam will reopen March 17, followed by John Day and Bonneville dams March 19 and The Dalles Dam on March 24.
Corps officials said that while the locks had been scheduled to reopen March 13, the date was changed to synchronize with the return to service of John Day and The Dalles locks and allow time to ensure all work met quality control standards.
Washington State University plans to release a study into the impact of closing the locks.
The Pacific Northwest Waterways Association estimates that more than 8 million tons of cargo, valued at as much as $2 billion, move by barge on the waterway each year. Northwest agricultural commodities, such as wheat and potatoes, move downriver for export at West Coast ports, while petroleum products, fertilizers and pesticides move upriver to farm communities.
About 40 percent of the region's wheat exports travel by barge on the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Shippers planned in advance for the lock closures, moving products by rail and truck, although Tidewater Barge Lines said it would lay off up to 200 employees for three months while the locks were being replaced.