US Army Corps of Engineers
Northwestern Division

Evaluating impacts and benefits of alternatives

The Economics of Navigation

Columbia River System Operations EIS
Published April 18, 2019
Ice Harbor Lock and Dam, near Burbank, Washington

Ice Harbor Lock and Dam, near Burbank, Washington

Lower Monumental Lock and Dam, near Kahlotus, Washington

Lower Monumental Lock and Dam, near Kahlotus, Washington

Little Goose Lock and Dam, near Starbuck, Washington

Little Goose Lock and Dam, near Starbuck, Washington

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to develop a reasonable range of alternatives that would satisfy the purpose and need for the action. Reasonable alternatives include those that are practical or feasible from the technical and economic standpoint and use common sense, rather than being simply desirable. The evaluation of each of the alternatives should be thorough enough to enable comparisons to be drawn about the implementation of those alternatives and their respective impacts on the natural and physical environment. Additionally, social and economic effects are folded into the evaluation. For purposes of NEPA, “effects” and “impacts” mean the same thing.

The Economics of Navigation

The CRSO EIS will evaluate how each of the alternatives would change the navigable waterways of the Columbia-Snake Navigation System. It also determines the impacts to shippers that use the navigation locks and reservoir pools at eight of the system’s federal multi-purpose projects:  Bonneville, The Dalles, John Day, McNary, Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams. As an example, the removal of a navigation structure and reduction in navigation channel depth from changes to pool operations could alter the ability to move one or more commodities on the river.

The EIS will describe these impacts on the commodities transported up and down the river through the system, and the costs and capacity of alternative transportation routes.

This economic analysis of navigation will be organized by three impact categories: national economic welfare effects, regional economic impacts and social effects.

  • National economic welfare is typically measured by evaluating a change to consumer surplus, or the utility an individual derives from the resource or activity under evaluation. These effects are often described in terms of the net economic values or benefits of the national output of goods and services. For navigation, the changes in the economic value of the national output equates to changes in transportation costs. 
  • Regional economic impacts address changes in the distribution of regional economic activity (for example, income and jobs), and the initial or direct impact on the primary affected industries (such as employment and income). It also evaluates the secondary impacts resulting from those industries that provide inputs to the directly affected industries. Changes in revenue that result in changes in income and jobs will be evaluated at a county and/or regional level.  
  • Other social effects analysis evaluates changes in factors considered to be measures of social well-being, such as health and safety, or community identity and life satisfaction.  For instance, increased waterway transportation costs may divert commodity movement to overland methods such as highways and railroads.