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Congress Oks $85 Million for Corps' Columbia/Snake Budget

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - September 19, 2003

The Senate has approved spending $85 million by the Army Corps of Engineers next year on salmon mitigation projects associated with federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

The annual budget item was part of the FY2004 energy and water development appropriations bill, which passed Tuesday, 92-0. The House bill, which was passed in July, also contained $85 million for the Corps of Engineers salmon mitigation program.

The amount equals this year's spending but is $10 million less than Bush asked for in his FY2004 budget proposal. The program pays for construction of fish screens, collectors, ladders and bypasses for the Columbia-Snake hydropower system. (For more details on the Corps' Columbia/Snake budget, see Story)

While agreeing on that funding amount, the House and Senate energy and water spending bills differ on other Northwest congressional delegation budget priorities, including money to begin deepening the lower Columbia River shipping channel.

Differences between the House and Senate bills will be resolved in negotiations between members of the two appropriations committees before a final bill is passed and sent to Bush. The next fiscal year begins Oct. 1, but Congress is expected to extend this year's spending levels until final appropriations for FY2004 are passed.

Also funded in the Senate version was the Bureau of Reclamation's Columbia Basin salmon program, which was set at $19 million, a $4 million increase. That matched Bush's budget request.

The reclamation program pays primarily for leasing water from Idaho irrigators to provide additional flows and spills at downriver dams for migrating salmon.

The $4 million increase, which the House did not approve, would be used to design and build projects to improve fish survival at non-federal irrigation diversions and canals. The bureau currently lacks legal authority to construct fish screens or remove barriers to migration at non-federal facilities, and Congress has not yet acted on proposed legislation to give it that authority.

Both the House and Senate bills contain $2 million for the Lower Columbia Estuary project to help restore Columbia Basin salmon runs. The funds will go toward habitat restoration projects in the estuary, which is an important habitat for salmon prior to migrating out to the ocean.

"Restoring salmon runs is a top Northwest priority that is critical to our region's heritage and way of life," Murray said. "We cannot abandon the progress that has been made toward restoring salmon to our rivers."

Regarding the $148.8 million Columbia River channel deepening project, the Senate provided $5 million for construction and related ecosystem restoration next year. President Bush did not request any money to start construction in his FY2004 budget and the House approved only $2 million for restoration, the same as the president's request.

After Oregon and Washington environmental officials approved the project this spring, Columbia River ports and Northwest members of Congress sought $20 million to begin channel deepening work.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., an appropriations committee member who pushed for the $5 million and will be part of the House-Senate negotiations, said hoped to keep the funding in the final bill.

"Dredging the Columbia River will help bring more jobs and economic opportunity to southwest Washington," Murray said. Lowering the 40-foot channel to 43-feet will enable larger shipping traffic to travel up the Columbia, thereby increasing the capacity for exports and creating more jobs and economic development, she said.

The ports of Vancouver, Longview, Woodland, Kalama, St. Helens, and Portland are supporting the dredging. The states of Oregon and Washington along with the ports will pay approximately 35 percent of the cost.

Murray noted that obtaining federal funds from Congress was significant in light of Bush's budget request for the Army Corps of Engineers, which was $445 million below this year's budget. She worked with energy and water appropriations subcommittee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-Nev., and ranking Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada to restore $233 million to the Corps' budget.

(For more on channel deepening funding, see Story)

The increase made it possible to fund many Northwest priorities that were not included in the president's budget, she said.

Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith obtained money for several Bureau of Reclamation projects, including the Umatilla Project ($2.7 million), the Phase III Study of the Umatilla Basin Project ($400,000), the piping of the Bend Feed Canal of the Tumalo Irrigation District ($500,000), and the Deschutes Ecosystem Restoration project ($750,000). The Deschutes project will also receive $3 million for the Wickiup Dam and other efforts, the Oregon senators said.

The Walla Walla In-stream Flow General Investigation Study, sponsored by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, received $500,000 in the Senate bill. The multi-year study will assess options to restore stream flows for support of treaty fish resources in the Walla Walla River while protecting long-term agricultural interests in the basin.

Other Oregon and Columbia River project approvals include:

CBB Staff
Congress Oks $85 Million for Corps' Columbia/Snake Budget
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 19, 2003

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