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BPA Letter Explains Coded-Wire Tag Funding Policy To Northwest Congressional Delegation
Posted on Friday, March 07, 2014 (PST)

Assertions by members of the Northwest congressional delegation that the Bonneville Power Administration is lopping off funding for coded wire tag monitoring of Columbia River basin salmon are greatly overstated, according recent letter from BPA CEO Elliot Mainzer.


“Our solution, which we are coordinating with the affected states and the Council, is much simpler and more benign than has been portrayed,” according to the Feb. 17 letter sent to Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington.


Similar letters were sent to five other Oregon and Washington members of Congress who co-signed a Dec. 20 letter asking BPA to justify its “decision to ignore the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s recommendation and imposed additional cuts on the Coded Wire Tag Program.”


Mainzer’s letter says that his agency has not cut off funding for coded wire projects, but rather has been working with multiple entities, including the states of Oregon and Washington, “seeking, over time, to better align BPA’s funding with our FCRPS responsibilities, at the same time freeing up other state and federal funds to continue the tagging work as a whole.


“BPA and Washington have recently reached an agreement to adjust funding accordingly for fiscal 2014.


“We are engaged in similar discussions with Oregon. We are confident that these adjustments will preserve effective CWT monitoring while also upholding both BPA’s obligations to its ratepayers and environmental stewardship of the Columbia River.”


“We never said there was going to be a cliff,” BPA Fish and Wildlife director, Bill Maslen, said. Rather, BPA’s idea is to transition funding for portions of the CWT away from the federal power marketing agency to responsible entities.


The current CWT program costs about $21.2 million per year, with the BPA cost share being about $7.5 million or approximately 35 percent of the total.


The federal power marketing agency in fiscal year 2012 spent more than $60 million overall to support research using techniques ranging from coded wire, radio telemetry, acoustic tags and passive integrated transponder tags to genetic markers and otolith marks and scales to fin clipping and data systems to manage the information received.


Overall, BPA spent more than $80 million in fiscal year 2013 on more than 150 fish and wildlife projects involving research and monitoring for fish and wildlife populations, habitat and hatcheries, Mainzer’s letter says.


Bonneville uses ratepayer revenues to pay for projects intended to mitigate for impacts of the Federal Columbia River Power System dams on fish and wildlife. It has argued that some of the CWT work does not directly mitigate for hydro system impacts.


The NPCC in August voted 6-2 to recommend that the Bonneville continue its contribution of about $7.5 million annually to a program aimed at monitoring the fate of Columbia River salmon and steelhead via coded wire tag technology. Idaho’s two Council members voted against the proposal. Members from Montana, Oregon and Washington favored it.


Some members at the time acknowledged that a funding responsibility “gray area” remained.


BPA and power user groups at the time favored an option to reduce over a three-year period BPA funding for fishery catch sampling and associated analysis, which would eventually eliminate about $1.9 million in annual project funding, and, again over a three-year period, reduce BPA funding for tagging at hatcheries funded through the federal Mitchell Act, an annual reduction of $600,000.


“… BPA and its customers continued to be concerned that certain CWT tasks funded by BPA are not directed related to mitigation responsibility for the federal hydrosystem,” Mainzer’s letter says. “These tasks involved CWT work at fish hatcheries funded by NOAA Fisheries under the Mitchell Act and for sampling of fish harvested in the lower Columbia River and off the central Oregon Coast.”


The letter from Cantwell, fellow Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and U.S. Reps. Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck of Washington insisted that BPA maintain funding.


“We understand that BPA may be seeking alternative methods to pay for the CWT programs, but we believe such an effort may be based on false assumptions that could set a bad precedent regarding BPA’s clear statutory mitigation responsibilities, including the Endangered Species Act,” the lawmakers said.


“… we request written justification from BPA for rejecting the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s recommendations. While the region continues to evaluate the legal and policy justifications for any changes to the CWT program, we urge BPA to restore funding to the program for at least the upcoming fiscal year.”


For more information see:


-- CBB, Aug. 9, 2013, “Northwest Power/Conservation Council Recommends Continued BPA Funding For Coded Wire Tagging”


-- CBB, June 21, 2013, “Economists: Need For ‘Rationalization’ Of Basin Fish-Tagging Programs Spending $70 Million A Year”


-- CBB, May 10, 2013, “Fish Tagging Forum Finds Some Consensus On Efficiencies But Differences On Coded Wire Tags”


-- CBB, March 1, 2013, “Columbia/Snake Basin Fish Tagging Costs $61.4 Million In 2012; Forum Evaluates Data Value For Policy”


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