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Agencies Look at 'Big-Ticket' Fish Passage Projects

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - May 31, 2002

The multi-agency group charged with setting priorities for fish passage improvement projects at Columbia-Snake mainstem dams began last week to ponder the order in which so-called "big ticket" capital projects should be implemented over the next eight years.

That time span runs to the end of the National Marine Fisheries Service's 10-year Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion. The BiOp issued in December 2000 details measures that the agency feels must be taken to improve the survival of 12 salmon and steelhead stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The System Configuration Team prioritizes research and fish passage improvement projects that are, for the most part, implemented under the guidance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the eight lower Columbia and Snake river federal dams. State and tribal fish and wildlife officials, as well as representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bonneville Power Administration, also take part in the SCT process. The SCT is part of the Regional Forum created via the 1995 FCRPS BiOp and continued under the new strategy.

The work at the dams is funded through congressional appropriations that are ultimately reimbursed to U.S. Treasury by the BPA. The appropriations vary depending on the fiscal mood of Congress but have been in the $70 million to $80 million range.

The fiscal year 2002 appropriation is $81 million, though about $13 million is being held back through a Corps administrative buffer called savings and slippage. With an eye toward implementing more of the measures called for in the 2000 BiOp, the Bush administration has requested a $98 million budget for fiscal 2003.

A spreadsheet produced by the Corps' John Kranda for last week's SCT meeting listed 80 projects now under consideration. Completing them all by the end of 2010 would cost more than $900 million at the most recent cost estimates. Those estimates change regularly as designs are furthered. Projects are added to the list, and others fall off, through time as research identifies what types of measures work best to improve passage survival of the fish.

"It's all speculative. There's a lot of decisions to be made," Kranda said this week. An example, he said is $39 million budget item aimed at ultimately reducing or eliminating problems with adult salmon and steelhead fallback at Bonneville Dam. Studies are planned to better pinpoint the cause of the fallback and recommend a cure, so the current plan, and cost estimate could be altered drastically.

The list includes 10 projects that would cost more than $40 million to complete -- from the beginning of design through construction. Three projects -- construction of surface bypass technology at The Dalles and McNary dams and a new bypass system at Bonneville Dam's first powerhouse -- each are estimated to cost more than $75 million.

And while not all of the expense for those projects are incurred in a single year, it will likely be necessary to stagger the start of the projects so that one or two projects don't take up an entire year's appropriation.

Barry Espenson
Agencies Look at 'Big-Ticket' Fish Passage Projects
Columbia Basin Bulletin, May 31, 2002

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