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Council F&W Committee Talks Policy About BPA Project Funding Cuts, Columbia Basin Fish Accords
Posted on Friday, July 13, 2018 (PST)

Looking for a 10 percent cut in Bonneville Power Administration fish and wildlife funding and with an extension of the Columbia Basin Fish Accords still uncertain, one member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council this week says he would like to see a closer coordination between the Council and Bonneville in determining priorities, especially with the Accords.

 

BPA announced to the Council at its meeting in Portland June 12 that it must cut its direct spending on fish and wildlife due to BPA’s fiscal uncertainties. This week at its meeting in Missoula, Montana, Bryan Mercier, executive director of BPA’s fish and wildlife division, said that he has begun reviewing and negotiating with fish and wildlife project leaders to “squeeze efficiencies” from projects.

 

“No one is happy about the reductions,” Mercier said. “But for the most part the response has been collaborative.”

 

Bonneville funds regional fish and wildlife projects associated with the four-state Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife program. For more information about the Council, its regional fish and wildlife program and program projects go to https://www.nwcouncil.org/fish-and-wildlife.

 

Mercier also said that Bonneville is in discussions with tribes and states to extend the Accords, which expire in September. The previous Accord agreement was for 10 years, but the next agreement may be just through 2022 and likely will be tied to a new salmon/steelhead environmental impact statement and biological opinion for the Federal Columbia River Power System.

 

(For more information about the Accords go to https://www.salmonrecovery.gov/Partners/FishAccords.aspx)

 

“At best, this is an exercise in parallel planning, but it doesn’t seem to be coordinated” between the Council and BPA, Oregon Council member Ted Ferrioli told Mercier. “It seems there is not transparency,” he continued, commenting specifically on Accord negotiations between BPA and the Tribes. “How does the Council plan when one-third of the projects are partitioned from its view?”

 

Mercier acknowledged the challenge for the Council with the Accord process, but said that tribes, states and BPA discussions must remain between BPA and those entities. However, he said, there should be a public review of the Accords in early August. “That’s our goal right now.”

 

In 2008, the federal agencies that own and operate the Federal Columbia River Power

System – BPA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Bureau of Reclamation – entered into fisheries agreements with tribes and Washington, Montana and Idaho. These agreements, known as the Columbia Basin Fish Accords, committed BPA to provide $100 million a year for 10 years for habitat, hatchery, and lower Columbia estuary projects to benefit the basin’s fish, particularly salmon, steelhead and lamprey.

 

As for BPA’s review of fish and wildlife projects related to the Council’s fish and wildlife program, that will continue for about a year. “We want to squeeze efficiencies out of projects before we have to make changes that impact fish,” Mercier said.

 

“Meanwhile, we will have issues like the one we had earlier this morning on how to deal with funding our next year,” said Bill Booth of Idaho.

 

During the Tuesday, July 10 meeting, the Fish and Wildlife Committee had given tentative approval to tribes to restore Pacific lamprey runs in Columbia River tributaries through artificial propagation and translocation. However, the Committee was not able to guarantee funds for the restoration work given the funding uncertainty, whether from BPA fish and wildlife funds or from the Accords.

 

Mercier said everyone will face some uncertainty, as the lamprey project shows. However, the potential extension of the Accords could provide funding the lamprey project needs.

 

“We are at a point of finite funds. We have to reallocate about $279 million to say $250 million,” he said. “The Council can lead with saying what projects we should be funding first and, with limited funds, what’s not a priority.”

 

A July 5 Council discussion memorandum (https://www.nwcouncil.org/sites/default/files/2018_0710_f2.pdf) by Tony Grover, director of the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Division, outlines some of the policy issues that arise with the BPA budget cuts, at least those cuts known to the Council at this time. Among the reductions and their policy implications in the memo are:

 

-- eliminate Select Area Fisheries Enhancement funding over 3 years for commercial gillnetters in the lower Columbia River. This program, Grover said, should have been self-sufficient by 2010. That could reduce fish provided by the program for harvest augmentation and could increase adverse impacts on ESA-listed fish, the memo says.

-- reduce Lower Snake River Compensation funding by several million dollars. This is a fund that has been collected in BPA rates that, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is a cooperative hatchery program. The reduction, according to the memo, would have minimal effects as budgeted funds have exceeded expenditures for several years. Mercier called this reduction a “right sizing.”

-- technical assistance functions of some umbrella projects and estuary habitat work. Mercier said BPA is trying to be more strategic when reviewing these projects.

-- reduce Water Transaction Program funds by $1 million. It is important that funds are not focused solely on BiOp purposes, that criteria continue to be applied consistently across the basin, and that administrative changes in the program at the contractor or qualified local entities level do not impede transactions, the memo says.

-- Reduce StreamNet funding by at least $54,000 and reduce funding to other data management efforts.

-- Eliminate most funding for the CHaMP and ISEMP projects for a roughly $5 million savings. Much of the reduction has already been made, according to Grover.

--Budget adjustments with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho. Mercier said the budget negotiation with the Tribe is complete and that the adjustment to flows will have no negative effect to the benefits to fish associated with this work.

 

Also see:

 

--CBB, June 15, 2018, “Bonneville Power Looking At Spending Reductions In Columbia Basin Fish/Wildlife Spending,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440947.aspx

 

--CBB, May 18, 2018, “Draft Report On Columbia Basin Fish/Wildlife Costs In 2017 Out For Review; $450.4 Million,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440762.aspx

 

--CBB, February 2, 2018, “Bonneville Power Releases Five Year Strategic Plan, 2018-2023,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440159.aspx

 

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