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Feds, Tribes, States Sign Extended Columbia Basin Fish Accords; $400 Million For Fish/Wildlife
Posted on Friday, October 26, 2018 (PST)

The Bonneville Power Administration, along with its partners in a new Columbia Basin Fish Accords, signed an agreement this month that for the most part extends the previous 2008 Accords it signed 10 years ago and that expired September 30, out to 2022.

 

A draft of the new Accords was released for public comment in September. That opportunity closed Sept. 26 and BPA released its Record of Decision Sept. 28.

 

Over ten years, the 2008 agreements provided states and tribes more than $900 million to implement projects benefiting salmon, steelhead, and other fish and wildlife, and $50 million for Pacific lamprey passage improvements at federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, according to BPA.

 

The 2008 Accords protected more than 36,000 acres of riparian habitat and improved nearly 7,000 acres; protected nearly 100,000 acre-feet of water; restored nearly 600 miles of streams and tributaries; opened access to nearly 2,000 miles of blocked fish habitat; and improved Pacific lamprey passage at dams operated by the Corps, BPA said. The 2008 agreements also committed funding for hatcheries.

 

BPA said that these partnerships over the past 10 years balanced BPA’s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ and the Bureau of Reclamation’s needs to perform their missions of navigation, flood risk management, hydropower production, fish and wildlife mitigation, recreation, water supply and irrigation in a manner consistent with tribal trust and treaty rights.

 

"With this renewed commitment, we look forward to building on the momentum and progress of the past 10 years," said Brig. Gen. Pete Helmlinger, commander of the Corps’ Northwestern Division.

 

Signing on to the new 4-year extension are the states of Idaho and Montana, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Shoshone Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation, and the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, along with BPA, BOR and the Corps.

 

“These agreements continue to represent a significant, regional partnership,” says Lorri Gray, Pacific Northwest Regional Director for the Bureau of Reclamation. “The work we’ve accomplished with the Accords illustrates the progress we can make for fish when we work together. We've seen that spending dollars on improving habitat is good for the fish and good for the region.”

 

The new Accords run through September 2022 and will set aside more than $400 million for fish and wildlife mitigation and protection, BPA said.

 

The 2018 Accords agreements are at www.bpa.gov/goto/FishAccordsExtensions

 

“The extension agreements address fish and wildlife affected by the development and operation of the Columbia River System and Upper Snake River Project dams, with a focus on salmon and steelhead protected under the Endangered Species Act,” the ROD says. “The Extensions continue the work begun under the Accords through certain on-going projects in the Columbia River Basin for up to four more years.”

 

It goes on to say that BPA commits to funding four more years to the tribal and state Accords parties to implement projects for the benefit of fish and wildlife in the Basin, recognizing their role as co-managers of these resources.

 

BPA’s ROD is at https://www.bpa.gov/news/pubs/RecordsofDecision/rod-20180928-Extensions-of-the-Columbia-Basin-Fish-Accords.pdf

 

“These extensions ensure we will continue to benefit from years of collaboration and direct coordination with our Accord partners,” says Elliot Mainzer, BPA administrator. “The alignment derived from these agreements ensures we will continue to get the highest value for the fish and wildlife investments we make in the region.”

 

The ROD says the parties to the extension committed to working together and supporting:

-- Issuance of NOAA Fisheries and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Opinions on the effects of the coordinated water management of the Columbia River System, including operations and maintenance of the dam and reservoir projects, for 2019 and beyond.

-- Agreeing on fish operations, including spring and summer spill for fish passage, for the 2019-2021 period.

-- Collaborating to seek alignment of regional sovereigns in support of the Columbia River System Biological Opinions, including system operations, in appropriate forums.

-- Coordinating and submitting complementary recommendations for amendments to the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program.

-- Finding efficiencies in project implementation that reduce administrative obligations related to project contracting, reporting, and, where appropriate, environmental compliance.

 

The 4-year extension corresponds with the completion of a new court-ordered biological opinion of the federal Columbia River power system. The 2014 BiOp was remanded by U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon in May 2016, requiring the hydropower action agencies to come back to court with a new BiOp by 2022-23.

 

The ROD says that the Accords were developed in the mid-2000s in the context of decades of Columbia River System litigation over ESA compliance. They reflected an effort by the parties to try a more collaborative approach to fish and wildlife mitigation in the Columbia River Basin and so the parties entered a 10-year Accord agreement that expired September 30, 2018.

 

As the Accords were about to expire, the parties began to express an interest in their extension.

 

“In the interest of continuing what proved to be an effective approach to addressing Bonneville’s fish and wildlife responsibilities and preserving the collaborative partnerships that developed among the parties during the initial Accords term, Bonneville agreed to explore Extensions of existing Accords,” the ROD says.

 

“We don’t want to lose the momentum of what we’ve been doing,” Bryan Mercier, executive director of BPA’s fish and wildlife division, told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council at its meeting in Wenatchee, Wash. Oct. 10. “Some have said that we’ve now moved from ‘gavel to gavel to gravel to gravel.’”

 

Washington, while still supportive of the Action Agencies’ efforts to address the effects of the Columbia River System on fish and wildlife, decided to continue collaborating in a spirit of partnership and to document expectations in a memorandum of understanding, rather than a contract, with the Action Agencies, the ROD says.

 

The Accord spending makes up a portion of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program, which is funded through BPA’s Fish and Wildlife budget. In FY2018 BPA’s fish and wildlife budget was $310,196,000, with $33,483,000 of that going to the Lower Snake River Compensation program, leaving $276,713,000 in direct fish and wildlife expense, according to an Oct. 2, 2018 Northwest Power and Conservation Council memorandum (https://www.nwcouncil.org/sites/default/files/2018_1009_f8.pdf). The Snake Compensation program produces chinook salmon and steelhead to compensate for the losses of those fish resulting from construction of the four lower Snake River dams.

 

Of the nearly $277 million of BPA’s fish and wildlife expense budget, a fairly large portion goes to Accords programs. The Corps and BOR also share in the expenses of the Accords.

 

“Typically, Accord expenditures have been about $90M of the about $250M or near 40 percent of the program,” Mercier had said at the Council’s September meeting in Eugene. “Capital expenditures fluctuate based on actual implementation of hatchery construction and/or land acquisitions.”

 

Some $107,886,154 was spent in FY2018 on Accords projects with tribes and states. The four-year Accord extension reduces the amount BPA will spend on the Accords each fiscal year. Extension expense funding by year:

 

FY2019: $104,283,958, a reduction of $3,602,196 from FY2018 (3.3 percent cut);

FY2020: $104,034,293, a reduction of $3,851,861 (3.6 percent cut);

FY2021: $105,225,820, a reduction of $2,660,334 (2.5 percent cut);

FY2022: $106,804,806, a reduction of $1,081,348 (1 percent cut).

 

Over the four years of the extension, the Colville Tribes will receive $68,840,586, CRITFC, $35,472,739, Idaho: $63,760,116, Montana, $24,526,239, Shoshone-Bannock, $25,263,661, Umatilla, $66,461,919, Warm Springs, $34,668,762, and Yakama, $129,517,963 (total $448,511,985).

 

The Accord extension does not include new hatcheries beyond those budgeted under the 2008 Accords, the ROD says.

 

In addition, it’s unlikely the Accord extension would fund reintroduction of anadromous fish upstream of Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams, even though the Northwest Power and Conservation Council Fish and Wildlife Program includes a three-phase approach of investigating the reintroduction. The ROD says that the action agencies – BPA, the Corps, BOR – “have legal, economic, and policy concerns with the Council’s three-phase approach and any other specific proposals for passage and reintroduction, the parties agree that all matters relating to this issue require the greatest sensitivity and adherence to the no-surprises provision of the Extensions.”

 

At its October meeting in Wenatchee, Wash. some Council members showed concern about the language in the new Accord regarding the Council’s measure in its 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program that calls for the investigation of anadromous fish reintroduction upstream of Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams, especially the Agreement’s assertion that the measure “does not meet the requirements of the Northwest Power Act.

 

In an Oct. 12 letter to Mainzer signed by Chair Jim Yost of Idaho, the Council says Bonneville’s position “has no basis in the Northwest Power Act” and only the Council has the authority to decide what constitutes a Program measure. Bonneville’s responsibility in the law is to determine how to use its fund “in a manner consistent with” measures the Council includes in the Program, according to a blog post by the Council’s John Harrison (https://www.nwcouncil.org/news/bpa-commits-450-million-columbia-fish-accord-extensions). “Moreover, Bonneville is not entitled to any deference for an interpretation of the portions of the Act explicitly instructing the Council how to develop and amend the fish and wildlife program.”

 

The Council added the measure in question to the Program in response to recommendations from parties including Indian tribes, whose recommendations for Program measures are given particular importance in the Power Act, Harrison wrote.

 

Harrison noted that Council members had other concerns about the Accord extension, saying that BPA “appears to be trying to limit participation by the Accord parties in the Council’s amendment of its Fish and Wildlife Program, a process that began last spring and will last into 2019. The Council amends the Program at least every five years.

 

“It looks like you are trying to keep the program static,” Oregon Council member Richard Devlin said, “by putting it in a box.” The Accord extensions require tribes to share any Program amendment recommendations with Bonneville, the Corps, and the Bureau in advance, and that recommendations must be consistent with the extensions.

 

Mercier said the Accords “will not impede the program; there is room to adaptively manage the projects.” He said the parties agreed to the Accords because they create “a forum of compromise, middle ground.”

 

During the 30-day comment period in which the public could comment on the draft Accords extension, there were just 14 comments. The ROD responds in general to those comments. Among the comments are:

-- some expressed disappointment that there was not more information about the progress towards mitigation goals and objectives as a result of the 2008 Accords.

-- some wanted the action agencies to use “measureable data” to evaluate the success of fish and wildlife mitigation actions as a way to inform a project and budget prioritization process.

-- some said it was imperative to bend down the upward cost trajectory of fish and wildlife mitigation costs to deal with BPA’s financial uncertainty.

-- some comments questioned how the Extensions affect Bonneville’s flexibility to get more money to cover the costs of more spill, some suggesting that the cost of spill comes from the BPA fish and wildlife budget.

-- One comment noted that the Accords failed in a central purpose—ending litigation over Columbia River System Operations.

-- One commenter says that funding does not focus on species of greatest need, such as white sturgeon and lamprey.

-- Two commenters believe that fish produced at Chief Joseph Hatchery should be available for use above Chief Joseph Dam.

-- One commenter expressed concern that the presence of four lower Snake River dams interferes with the Nez Perce treaty tribal fishing rights and the survival of salmon and orcas.

 

All comments to the draft Accords extension are at https://www.bpa.gov/applications/publiccomments/CommentList.aspx?ID=362

 

CRITFC recently compiled a summary of work completed in the last ten years under the Accords. That report is at http://www.critfc.org/blog/2018/08/14/fish-accords-10-year-summary/

 

The 2008 Accord agreements are available at www.salmonrecovery.gov.

 

Also see:

 

--CBB, October 12, 2018, “Council Hears Update On Latest BPA Funding Reductions To Fish And Wildlife Program Projects,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441652.aspx

 

--CBB, September 14, 2018, “Draft Columbia Basin Fish Accords Extension Out For Review; Less Expensive, Shorter Duration,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441489.aspx

 

--CBB, August 17, 2018, “Report Summarizes Tribes’ Work, Results From 10 Years Of Columbia River Fish Accords,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441301.aspx

 

--CBB, August 17, 2018, “Council Gets Update On BPA Efforts To Reduce Funding For Fish/Wildlife Program Projects,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441295.aspx

 

--CBB, July 13, 2018, “Council F&W Committee Talks Policy About BPA Project Funding Cuts, Columbia Basin Fish Accords,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441105.aspx

 

--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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