Congress Cuts Salmon Budget;by CBB Staff
Congress has cut President George W. Bush's budget for Columbia Basin salmon recovery next year but boosted funds for deepening the Columbia River shipping channel.
Funding for those and other programs are included in the FY2004 energy and water development appropriations bill, which is expected to pass the House next week. House and Senate appropriations committee leaders announced agreement on the bill this week after resolving differences between versions passed earlier this year by the two chambers.
The final version of the bill provides $27.3 billion for various agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works program, Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Energy. The total is $1.2 billion above FY2003 and $382 million above the president's budget request for FY2004.
The Army Corps of Engineers received $85 million in construction funds for salmon mitigation projects at the eight federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, the largest Northwest recovery program. That is the same as this year's amount but $10 million less than Bush sought in his FY2004 budget. The program pays for fish screens, collectors, ladders and passage improvements, including the downstream migrant juvenile fish bypass at Bonneville Dam.
For the most part, Congress just determines a lump sum for the program and does not specify amounts for individual projects.
A spokesman for the Corps' Portland office said the reduced mitigation budget could prompt some changes in priorities but "will allow us to continue to improve the hydrosystem for the benefit of salmon." Once local officials are told what funding is available, they will then consult with the System Configuration Team, a regional group of officials that helps set priorities for the Corps' fish program, Matt Rabe said.
The agency's original budget plan for the program included:
The $15 million program enables Reclamation to lease water from irrigators, primarily in Idaho, to enhance flows and spills for migrating salmon downriver at Columbia-Snake dams.
At the same time, Northwest members obtained $3.5 million for the lower Columbia River shipping channel deepening project, which was not funded in Bush's budget.
After Oregon and Washington environmental officials approved permits for the project this spring, Columbia River ports and Northwest members of Congress sought $20 million to begin channel deepening work. The $132 million project, which is partly funded by the states, will lower the channel by three feet to 43 feet to accommodate larger cargo ships. The project will benefit the ports of Vancouver, Longview, Woodland, Kalama, St. Helens, and Portland.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., an appropriations committee member, earlier won Senate approval for $5 million in FY2004, while the House provided $2 million.
"Improving the Columbia River will mean more jobs and economic development for our region. I am proud to have led the fight for this critical funding in the Senate and continue to hope that dredging will become a priority for the administration, as well," Murray said.
The president's FY2004 request for the Army Corps of Engineers was $445 million less than the current year, Murray said. Congress restored $288 million to the Corps' budget, making possible many Northwest funding priorities that were not in the administration's budget, she said.
The $3.5 million for channel deepening will be combined with unspent funds previously appropriated for the project by Congress, Rabe said. With the funding, the agency plans to begin ecosystem restoration in the lower Columbia and continue monitoring and research and "we likely would begin a small dredging contract near the end of FY04 or summer 2004," he said.
On-the ground ecosystem restoration work can't begin until Corps of Engineers officials issue a final record of decision for the channel deepening project in the coming weeks.
The Corps already has several ongoing programs aimed at improving habitat in the lower Columbia River.
The FY04 appropriation bill provides $2 million for the lower Columbia estuary habitat restoration project, which was authorized by Congress in the 2000 Water Resources Development Act. Also funded in Bush's budget, the program helps restore and protect important habitat for both aquatic and terrestrial species, Rabe said.
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