new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office calls out federal
agencies for not implementing a Columbia River Basin Restoration Program, as
required by law, and the report identifies shortcomings in tracking federal
spending on restoration efforts that have already been pursued.
December 2016, Congress amended the Clean Water Act by adding Section 123,
which requires the Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Office of
Management and Budget to take actions related to restoration efforts in the
basin. The GAO was asked to review those efforts.
report examines efforts to improve water quality from 2010 through 2016;
approaches to collaboration that have been used for selected restoration
efforts; sources of funding and federal expenditures on restoration; and
evaluates how the EPA and the OMB have implemented Section 123.
EPA and Office of Management and Budget have not yet implemented Section 123,”
the report bluntly states.
report recommends that EPA develop a plan for implementing a Columbia River
Basin Restoration Program; and having OMB compile and submit an interagency
“cross-cut” budget. The EPA has accepted the recommendations, but the OMB has
yet to comment in response.
study found that total federal expenditures for restoration efforts through
this decade “could not be determined.”
reported using a mix of federal and nonfederal funding sources for restoration efforts
in the basin, but total federal expenditures could not be determined partly
because there is no federal funding dedicated toward restoration.
to EPA officials, the agency has not yet taken steps to establish the Columbia
River Basin Restoration Program, as required by the Clean Water Act Section
123. EPA officials told GAO they have not received dedicated funding
appropriated for this purpose,” the report states. “However, EPA has not yet
requested funding to implement the program or identified needed resources.”
the report points out that the OMB hasn’t requested related budget information
from several federal agencies involved with restoration efforts.
developing a program management plan that identifies actions and resources
needed, EPA would have more reasonable assurance that it can establish the
program in a timely manner,” the report states. “Also, an interagency cross-cut
budget has not been submitted. According to OMB officials, they have had
internal conversations on the approach to develop the budget but have not
requested information from agencies. A cross-cut budget would help ensure
Congress is better informed as it considers funding for basin restoration
report points out that the Columbia Basin is one of North America’s largest
watersheds, encompassing 259,000 square miles in the U.S. and Canada, a region
with a population of 8 million people. It was once the largest salmon-producing
river system in the world, with 16 million salmon returning annually for
spawning. Now there are 13 salmon and steelhead stocks that are listed as
“threatened” or “endangered.”
hydroelectric power generation, agricultural practices, and other human
activities have impaired water quality in some areas of the basin to the point
where historic salmon and steelhead stocks and human health are at risk,” the
restoration and monitoring have focused on recovering fish stocks listed as
threatened or endangered, but more recent efforts have focused on water quality
and reducing toxins in the river system.
time, these efforts have increased in scope to include a focus on water
quality-related concerns — such as reducing river and stream temperatures —
because impairments to water quality negatively affect fish populations, among
Columbia River and its tributaries were recognized as one of 28 estuaries of
“national significance” in 1987 and in 2006, the EPA recognized the Columbia
Basin as one of the 10 key “large aquatic ecosystems” in the nation.
amended the Clean Water Act in 2016 by adding Section 123, which required the
EPA to establish a Columbia River Basin Restoration Program, and it required
the OMB to prepare an interagency cross-cut budget related to federal agencies’
effort to protect and restore the Columbia River Basin.
examine the sources of funding and federal funding expenditures in the basin,
we obtained budget documents, interviewed agency officials, reviewed responses
to funding questions included in our survey, and requested expenditure data for
five federal efforts for fiscal years 2014 through 2016.”
GAO says it identified “significant concerns with the accuracy and completeness
of the information that we would gather through this approach, thereby limiting
our ability to compare expenditure date across agencies and efforts. Given the
degree of variability, uncertainty and lack of detail in the information
agencies could provide on their water quality related restoration expenditures,
we concluded that the data would not be reliable for the purpose of estimating
expenditures of federal funding for water quality related restoration efforts
in the basin.”
get more clarity, the GAO sent a second survey to the Bonneville Power
Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service, the
EPA, and the United States Geological Survey. But that did not change the
report’s conclusion that total federal expenditures could not be determined.
GAO’s “performance audit” report, conducted between October of 2016 through
August of 2018, also points to a lack of coordination and oversight related to
there have been some plans to guide certain restoration efforts for parts of
the basin, there is no overall plan to guide water quality related restoration
efforts throughout the Columbia River Basin or a requirement for a federal
agency or others to develop such a plan.”
found that entities implemented their restoration efforts under a range of
authorities and programmatic missions” and through various collaborative
partnerships based on specific circumstances.
was in part because there is no overall coordinating body to guide water
quality-related restoration efforts throughout the Columbia River Basin or a
requirement prior to the enactment of Section 123 for federal agencies to
develop such a body,” the report states.
report comments on other findings. It notes, for instance, that there are fewer
water quality monitoring sites in the basin than there were in the 1990s; on
the mainstem lower Columbia River, the number of water quality monitoring sites
has dwindled and currently just one is being monitored for toxics.
view the complete report, see: https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-18-561