Federal “action” agencies Friday afternoon (Aug. 23) made public a 300-page document that outlines hundreds of actions, most focused on habitat restoration, that they say will be implemented over the next five years to avoid jeopardizing the survival of 13 salmon and steelhead stocks native to the Columbia-Snake river basin that are now listed for protections under the Endangered Species Act.
The “Draft 2014-2018 Implementation Plan” describes the actions that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration, collectively known as the “action agencies,” will complete from 2014 through 2018 to improve survival of listed fish. The plan comes in answer to a 2011 federal court mandate that said that the federal agencies must provide more specifics about their hydro system salmon protection plan to assure listed species’ survival.
Those listed fish include stocks that originate in the Snake and Willamette rivers, which are both tributaries to the Columbia. The Corps and Bureau operate dams within the Federal Columbia River Power System; Bonneville markets power generated at the dams.
The draft IP sets out a plan and specific 2014-2018 habitat actions to meet Federal Columbia River Power System “biological opinion” survival improvement targets. Local experts identified these projects, addressing specific subbasins, limiting factors and priority populations of salmon and steelhead that the BiOp identifies, according to the action agencies.
The draft 2014-2018 FCRPS BiOp Implementation Plan will be available for public comment from Aug. 23 Sept. 23. To submit a comment, go to:
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The draft IP builds on the accomplishments and lessons learned from the first five years of BiOp implementation, as described in the draft July 2013 “Comprehensive Evaluation” of progress made through the first four years of the BiOP. The implementation plan incorporates new information and adjusts implementation to address emerging issues, the action agencies say.
The draft 2014-2018 plan says that actions identified and described will meet BiOp survival improvement targets by 2018.
The five-year implementation plan is intended to fulfill goals set out in NOAA Fisheries’ 2008 FCRPS BiOp, a 10-year strategy developed under the ESA to judge whether federal actions – in this case dam existence and operations – jeopardize listed fish. That BiOp, which was supplemented in 2010, was struck down in Oregon’s U.S. District Court.
In August 2011, the court held that the FCRPS BiOp contains positive mitigation measures that provide adequate protection to the listed species through 2013, and it held that the BiOp shall remain in place and be implemented through Dec. 31, 2013.
Judge James A. Redden, who presided in that case at the time, also ordered that spring and summer spill operations to facilitate fish passage be continued at the hydro projects in a manner consistent with prior court orders that adopted the Corps’ annual Fish Operations Plan.
The federal court, however, called the BiOp arbitrary and capricious and remanded it to NOAA Fisheries to reconsider the sufficiency of habitat mitigation actions beyond 2013.
Redden ordered NOAA to produce a new or supplemental BiOp by Jan. 1, 2014. Federal officials say that a draft version of that new/supplemental BiOp will be offered for public review within the next few weeks.
(See CBB, Aug. 5, 2011, “Redden Orders New Salmon BiOp By 2014; Says Post-2013 Mitigation, Benefits Unidentified” http://www.cbbulletin.com/411336.aspx)
“This will form the basis for our ‘action’ that NOAA Fisheries will assess” in developing its new BiOp, said the Corps’ Rock Peters. “This is our plan for the next five years.”
The new implementation plan says that the actions outlined are subject to congressional authority and funding. The federal Administration has consistently sought and received, and continues to seek appropriations, and additional authorities, the action agencies say.
Much of the habitat work is funded by BPA, which markets power generated in the power system and is charged under the Northwest Power Act with mitigating for dam impacts.
The implementation plan describes planned work in several categories:
-- Hydro: Configuration and operational actions to promote safe passage of juvenile and adult fish through the FCRPS represent the core of the plan.
-- Predators: Management of birds, fish and marine mammals that prey on salmon and steelhead.
-- Habitat: Improvements in tributary streams and the estuary to promote salmon survival.
-- Hatcheries: Use of “safety net” hatcheries and reform of hatchery practices to minimize effects on wild fish.
-- Accountability: Performance standards, research and monitoring, progress reports, adaptive management, and regional collaboration.
“This Implementation Plan reflects expanded requirements established by NOAA under what began as the 2008 BiOp for the FCRPS. A 2010 Supplemental BiOp incorporated an Adaptive Management Implementation Plan (AMIP), which included accelerated actions, additional research, and contingency plans in the event of unexpected fish declines,” the plan’s introduction says.
“The federal agencies have continued to fund and implement the BiOp as directed, which has included a substantial increase in expenditures since 2008.The agencies have also continued their work with states, tribes, and other regional organizations that are essential partners in fulfilling several elements of the BiOp, including habitat improvements and monitoring,” the implementation plan says. “Research and monitoring has found positive results, including safer dam passage for juvenile fish as well as improved fish abundance and survival following habitat improvements.
“This Implementation Plan (IP) represents a collaborative effort by the Action Agencies with states, tribes, community watershed groups, and others to better describe implementation actions from 2014 through 2018, while continuing to execute, track, and learn from measures already under way,” the plan says.
“This Implementation Plan was originally expected to include actions for implementation over the next three years. In response to the court order, however, the action agencies, with NOAA’s concurrence, have expanded the Implementation Plan to describe specific actions through 2018 to support NOAA’s development of a supplemental BiOp. The purposes of this Implementation Plan include:
“-- Determine and document strategies, priorities, actions and timetables.
-- Facilitate and measure agency progress toward performance standards and targets.
-- Facilitate agency management of the program and progress reporting.
-- Provide a flexible framework for adapting actions and achieving results.
-- Provide an opportunity for the Regional Implementation Oversight Group (RIOG) and other stakeholders to review the Action Agencies’ plans and actions.
‘Substantial research and extensive planning stand behind the actions described in this Implementation Plan. The BiOp includes measurable performance standards, targets, and timelines that the Action Agencies will use to track their progress and adjust direction if necessary; all these elements ensure transparency and that BiOp commitments will be met.
“NOAA may therefore reasonably rely on the benefits of the actions described in this Implementation Plan to conclude the suite of actions avoids the likelihood of jeopardizing listed salmon and steelhead or adversely modifying their designated critical habitat. The following Action Agency commitments further underscore the reliability of the mitigation program:
-- The Action Agencies adopted records of decision to implement the BiOp, and BPA has included funding commitments in its rate case proceedings.
-- Each agency has dedicated extensive staff and other resources to carrying out the BiOp.
-- The Action Agencies have joined states and tribes in signing the Columbia Basin Fish Accords, which ensure funding for the duration of the BiOp and reinforce the common goal of delivering