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Feds Partner with Washington to Accelerate
Habitat Projects in Columbia Estuary

by Staff
The Daily Astorian, April 3, 2009

Feds partner with Washington to accelerate habitat projects in Columbia estuary

Columbia River salmon and steelhead will gain vital estuary habitat through a new partnership announced Friday between the state of Washington and the federal agencies that operate the Federal Columbia River Power System.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Friday proposed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the State of Washington that would direct another $40.5 million to protect and restore estuary habitat through 2018. The action nearly doubles estuary habitat funds, strengthening the federal commitment to listed stocks.

BPA is seeking public comment on the memorandum by May 4.

"The Columbia River Estuary is critical to maintaining and growing our fragile salmon and steelhead stocks," said Gov. Chris Gregoire. "I am proud of our leadership role in strengthening the protection of our fish populations."

Phil Anderson, interim director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said the department will work closely with local sponsors to identify and implement projects that restore tidal wetlands, reopen fish passage and take other actions to improve fish survival.

"This initiative will significantly increase the pace of habitat restoration in the lower Columbia basin, which is key to improving the survival of juvenile salmon," Anderson said. "Other fish and wildlife species will also benefit from this additional commitment to habitat restoration in the estuary."

"We feel this is the right investment of effort and money, is a robust approach for addressing estuary habitat issues and makes good use of the Corps' environmental programs," said Brig. Gen. William E. Rapp, Northwestern Division commander. "This agreement helps assure we will deliver collaboratively developed, scientifically based improvements for fish."

Scientists have increasingly recognized the estuary as a critical nursery for juvenile salmon from all of the Columbia Basin's 13 listed stocks as they migrate to the ocean. Collaborative talks directed by U.S. District Judge James Redden focused more attention on the estuary and led the agencies, states and tribes to identify extra steps that will bolster fish habitat.

"We saw this opportunity to provide an insurance policy that our projected biological results will be achieved," said BPA Administrator Steve Wright. "Our partnership with Washington provides even more evidence of the many ways our collaboration is paying off for fish."

The memorandum would almost double the $49.5 million the federal agencies had already dedicated to estuary habitat over the 10-year course of the 2008 Biological Opinion for the Columbia River hydropower system, boosting funding to unprecedented levels.

It takes advantage of Corps cost-sharing programs for habitat improvements. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will apply BPA funds, provided by ratepayers, to leverage matching federal appropriations, which the Corps will seek from Congress.

BPA invites public comment on any associated environmental effects. The comment period closes at 5 p.m.May 4.

Feds Partner with Washington to Accelerate Habitat Projects in Columbia Estuary
The Daily Astorian, April 3, 2009

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