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Commentaries and editorials

Fish Managers say
No Regional Accord on Project Spending

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - October 17, 2003

Representatives of the Upper Columbia United Tribes and of the Columbia River basin's fish and wildlife managers said this week that they wanted to set the record straight as regards their stance on the Bonneville Power Administration's newly adopted strategy for managing fish and wildlife spending.

The tribes disapprove, and the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority's 18 members have nothing close to a consensus endorsing the budget plan, Mary Verner and Rod Sando told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council Tuesday.

Verner and Sando, executive directors for the UCUTS and CBFWA, respectively, asked for an audience with the Council's Fish and Wildlife Committee to explain their position.

An Oct. 3 letter from BPA Administrator Stephen Wright to Council Chairwoman Judi Danielson recites the conditions over the past three years that caused the federal power marketing agency's "financial condition to deteriorate significantly." BPA has been forced to impose a series of rate increases and embark on a cost-cutting campaign with the goal of righting its financial ship.

That required a NPCC fish and wildlife program austerity effort this past winter to assure that fiscal 2003 accrued expenses did not exceed a BPA-imposed $139 million cap. Project cutbacks and deferrals were required because planned work, and the receipt of invoices for work from previous years, threatened to greatly exceed the spending cap.

Agency Programs 2001 2002 2003 2004
Dept. of Energy Bonneville Power Administration Direct Fish Costs $184.0 $253.3 $246.8 $280.5
Army Corps of Engineers Including Columbia River Fish Mitigation, new Lower Columbia River Estuary programs, Columbia/Snake River dam fish passage improvements, FCRPS Biological Opinion. $102.7 $108.8 $113.5 $125.1
Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund for Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, (Idaho to be included 2005?) $90.0 $110.0 $90.0 $90.0
Dept. of Agriculture U.S. Forest Service and National Resources Conservation Service salmon conservation/restoration programs. $78.2 $84.4 $44.8 $76.8
Dept. of Interior Including U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service hatcheries & other, Leavenworth Fish Hatchery, Bureau of Land Management salmon conservation, Bureau of Reclamation FCRPS Biological Opinion, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Geological Service salmon program. $43.9 $70.7 $78.3 $76.9
Dept. of Commerce NOAA Fisheries, Columbia River hatcheries and facilities and Endangered Species Act recovery planning. $25.5 $24.6 $26.2 $39.7
Environmental Protection Agency Including support for tribal salmon programs, Clean Water Act and other water quality/restoration programs. $18.2 $18.3 $18.2 $18.3
Total Funding Discretionary and Mandatory $542.5 $670.1 $617.8 $707.3

Source: 2003 Check-In for the Federal Columbia River Power System (Table 5-1. Fiscal Year 2001-2004 Funding for Columbia & Snake River & Coastal Salmon Recovery)

Wright's recent letter cited "an ongoing critical need in this and every other function to spend only what is absolutely required to meet our essential goals." To assure that fish and wildlife spending remains within bounds -- and to let project proponents know over a longer term what funding will be available -- a set of "budgeting rules" for program expense have been developed.

"In an effort to provide clarity and predictability for the planning and management of the program, staff from the Council, the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority (CBFWA) and BPA, with input from the Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT), have worked closely over the last several months to develop processes and protocols to be used for fish and wildlife spending for the remainder of BPA's current power rate period, FY 2004 through 2006," Wright wrote.

"I appreciate the collaborative approach of the Council, UCUT, and CBFWA staff in the development of these rules. There has been a great deal of time and effort spent in discussions to design a structure that addresses concerns raised by each party. This structure is consistent with recommendations contained within the June 3, 2003, letter from CBFWA to BPA and the Council."

The rules, formalized via the Oct. 3 letter, says the Council program can spend an average of $139 million per year through fiscal 2006, with total expenditures not to exceed $556 million for the period. The rules allow a deviation from that average of as much as 10 percent in any one year (a high of $153 million and a low of $125 million) provided the four-year average is at or below $139 million.

The new rules also allow a "rescheduling" of project work from one year to the next. If a project proceeds slower, or faster, than planned, the money associated with that work can be rescheduled from year to year, again as long as the overall program projects holds to the annual budget rules. Bonneville has in the recent past insisted that carryover -- a similar concept -- of project funds would not be allowed. The new rules also allow its contracting officials to authorize project rescheduling, as well as increases of 10 percent (up to $20,000) in budgets for individual contracts.

Verner and Sando said Wright's letter implies regional accord on those budget boundaries.

"Our input was in the form of objections, not endorsements," Verner told the Council committee. She said the UCUT member tribes (the Coeur d'Alene, Colville, Kalispel, Kootenai and Spokane) support neither the capped average nor the allowed 10 percent fluctuation in the annual budget.

Likewise, Sando said "There's never been a consensus at CBFWA on the cap." The June 3 letter referred to by Wright does outline a budget management structure similar to the rules adopted by BPA, but the letter says "the majority of our members do not support the current level of funding for the program.." CBFWA's membership includes federal, state and tribal fish and wildlife management entities.

"There are some conditions there (in Wright's letter) that are implied to be final that we don't agree with," Sando told the Council. He said that the Council's subbasin plan development process is nearing an end. The expectation is that implementation of many of those subbasin plans will begin in 2005 and 2006. And the funding needs of that implementation are as-yet unknown.

Verner said that, to her knowledge, the Council has not officially endorsed BPA's $139 million spending limit, and it shouldn't. Subbasin plan implementation needs, and potential off-site fish and wildlife work stemming from a federal court's remand of NOAA Fisheries Columbia/Snake salmon recovery plan, are likely to require more funding, she said.

The $139 million "is still an average that is too low. We anticipate there will be far too much demand," Verner said.

"It's going to have definite effects on projects on the ground. The new projects are gone, and the old projects are still hurting" after the winter's cost cutting effort, she said.

Danielson said she did not expect a CBFWA consensus on the budget protocols "because it did not meet the managers bar for enough money. Reality bites. There's never going to be enough money in there."

She said the issues were discussed openly, and all did not agree with the result. Danielson called disputes over Columbia Basin fish and wildlife funding levels an "age old problem in the region."

BPA's Therese Lamb told the committee that the rules are intended to be "clear about what the rules are." She said the funding amount is consistent with amounts promised in a December 2001 letter from Wright, and with fish and wildlife costs used in establishing wholesale power rates for the rate period. BPA's vice president for Environment, Fish and Wildlife said it was not the intent of Wright's letter to infer that CBFWA was in total agreement with the budget rules.

Related Sites:

Barry Espenson
Fish Managers say No Regional Accord on Project Spending|
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 17, 2003

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