Council Approves Project Fundingby Barry Espenson
The Northwest Power Planning Council has nearly completed the first round in its newly created three-year rolling "provincial review" process for selecting projects to be funded through its Columbia Basin fish and wildlife program.
During its meeting in Spokane last week, the Council made funding recommendations for five provinces -- the Lower Columbia, Estuary, eastern Washington's Columbia Cascade, and Idaho's Middle and Upper Snake. The approvals wrap up decisions for 11 geographical provinces demarcated by the Council. Remaining is the "mainstem/systemwide" province.
All but one of the Sept. 11 recommendations matched budget levels that were established by the Council -- each province receiving a prorated share of the $186 million that the Bonneville Power Administration has said would likely be available, on average, for the Council program annually. The shares are based on what has been spent historically in each province.
The combined Lower Columbia/Estuary budget was boosted $2 million beyond its prorated share in each of the next three years, primarily to address Endangered Species Act issues.
All of the Council recommendations await BPA contracting action with funding for some of the Idaho projects in question. BPA's deputy director for fish and wildlife, Bob Austin said in a memo dated Sept. 5 that in-lieu issues could affect "the Bonneville Power Administration's (Bonneville) decision to fund a proposal." The Council decided to write a letter to BPA asking that the letter be withdrawn and the agency join discussions to resolve in lieu and other funding implementation policy issues.
A Bonneville review of "new" projects -- as opposed to ongoing projects -- rated two projects in the Middle Snake and one in the Upper Snake as having "in-lieu funding problems." Additionally, two projects in the Middle Snake and two in the Upper Snake are said to have "potential in-lieu funding issues."
An example is the Middle Snake's "White sturgeon put, grow and take fishery feasibility assessment" for Oxbow and Hells Canyon reservoirs. The Nez Perce Tribe project requests $550,000 over the 2003-2006 budget period. The proposal was given high priority by the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority's state, federal and tribal fish and wildlife managers and was deemed fundable by the Independent Scientific Review Panel.
BPA's review said "the project focuses on habitat losses directly and exclusively attributable to Idaho Power Co. dams" that create the two reservoirs and block upriver salmon and steelhead passage. Likewise a proposal to "Assess the feasibility of the Upper Malheur Watershed to support the reintroduction of anadromous populations above the Beulah and Warm Springs reservoirs" was noted by BPA as not being part of the federal hydrosystem."
BPA is charged via the Northwest Power Act with mitigating for the impacts to Columbia Basin fish and wildlife from the construction and operation of the federal hydrosystem. Bonneville has historically questioned whether it has responsibility to mitigate in areas above non-federal dams, particularly where salmon and steelhead spawning habitat is blocked by a non-federal hydro project. Salmon passage into the upper and middle Snake River regions was blocked with the construction of the Hells Canyon complex of dams owned by Idaho Power.
A Council staff memo notes that the in lieu issue had been long simmering. It says that Bonneville has historically denied responsibility for mitigation above non-federal projects that block fish access. But the agency has acknowledged that there "may be some responsibility under the Act for impact to fish and wildlife caused by federal projects that lie above non-federal projects…," the memo says.
The Council's 1995 fish and wildlife program called on BPA, other federal and non-federal hydro project owners at and above Hells Canyon and fish and wildlife managers to resolve the issue of Bonneville's responsibility in the area. The issue still has not been addressed.
The Council staff recommended that the fish and wildlife projects not be deferred pending resolution of the issue.
"... Bonneville has acknowledged limited responsibility for some federal projects above Hells Canyon dam, and if projects can be reasonably linked to those projects, they should be able to move forward." The Council's recommendations to approve Middle Snake ($2.3 million in 2003, $2.6 million in 2004 and $2.4 million in 2005) and the Upper Snake (slightly more than $1 million in each of the three fiscal years) included the projects BPA identified as having in lieu funding problems.
After the first few provincial reviews were completed, the Council realized that many more projects were being identified by the ISRP and CBFWA as being fundable than the available budget could accommodate. Since that time the Council has asked that the process be reined in, with fish and wildlife managers and project proponents further prioritizing proposals.
The Council chose last week to step outside its own funding bounds with its Lower Columbia/Estuary funding recommendation. To fund that three-year budget, the Council recommends using about $6 million in unallocated funds from the current fiscal year's budget. BPA and Council staff calculated that about $20 million remains unallocated, according to Doug Marker, the NPPC's fish and wildlife department director.
The combined Estuary/Lower Columbia budget recommended by the Council totals $9 million in 2003, $9.8 million in 2004 and $8.9 million in 2005. The draw on the unallocated placeholder would enable the funding of a number of habitat and research projects related to the National Marine Fisheries Service's 2000 hydrosystem biological opinion.
The Council staff and Fish and Wildlife committee felt the projects merited the funding because of the unique BiOp opportunities in the area.
One fairly large chunk of the recommended Lower Columbia/Estuary funding package is in temporary limbo -- the nearly $1.7 million annual funding for the Select Area Fishery Evaluation Project. The 10-year project to investigate the feasibility of terminal commercial fisheries in Youngs Bay and elsewhere is entering its final stage. The intent is to provide site specific harvest opportunities on hatchery fish that pose minimal risk to protected wild salmon stocks.
Council Chairman Larry Cassidy of Washington said it is "a legitimate goal" to provide fish for commercial harvest. But he said the Council needed more information about the purported economic benefits before providing funding for another year.
"I don't want to spend another dollar of public money until we find out" whether the commercial fishers are taking full advantage of the opportunities provided by the SAFE program, Cassidy said. He asked that the project sponsors -- the Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife Departments and the Clatsop County Economic Development Council's Fisheries Project -- to provide details about fisher participation, the number of nets deployed, the number of fish landed and the income derived from the fisheries.
In the Columbia Cascade Province, the Council staff and project sponsors set priorities to pare a list of $14 million of worthy projects down to the allowable $4 million annual budget.
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