The Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program is a long-term and sustained effort to mitigate the effects of the hydroelectric system development and operation on fish and wildlife. The early years of the program were focused on growing and investing in projects. Recently, much of its activity has transitioned toward a sustained operations and maintenance program. The current ongoing operation and maintenance of the program is the cumulative result of projects approved over many years, each with accompanying costs and benefits for fish and wildlife.
The IEAB has reviewed the process for proposing, approving, funding, and reviewing projects in the program. The general finding is that although many projects are ongoing long-term efforts, projects are approved with limited information about the expected length of the projects and/or their long-term costs. As a result, there is limited understanding of likely future costs beyond the few years needed for budgeting and rate setting. Major funding needs for operations, maintenance, repairs, and equipment replacement have not been adequately anticipated or planned for. The need for repairing and replacing past physical investments has created unanticipated funding needs now required to prevent loss of Fish and Wildlife Program benefits.
This report contains IEAB recommendations that are intended to put the Fish and Wildlife Program on an appropriate long-term planning basis. Below are the five key recommendations of the report.
- Implement an asset management process for the major physical assets of the Fish and Wildlife Program.
Asset management is a well-developed process that is used by many agencies and businesses, including Bonneville for its power related investments. While the general concept is well-understood, specific implementation details will need to consider the unique assets owned and maintained by the Fish and Wildlife Program.
- Develop an information system to encompass the life-cycle activities, costs, and benefits of all Fish and Wildlife Program projects.
The 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program recommends that the federal action agencies provide 20-year cost estimates to the Council annually. The existing systems for collecting cost information need to be expanded. The new system should provide information on the following questions: How long is the expected life of the project? How will benefits of the project be maintained after the project ends? What is the temporal profile of the work activities and costs of the project?
- Utilize the life-cycle project information to improve the management of the long-term costs of the Fish and Wildlife Program, to improve the cost effectiveness of the Fish and Wildlife Program, and to supplement the information available for project reviews.
The IEAB recommends that, in addition to the 20-year cost forecasts, additional new information should be collected and used to increase the benefits and enhance the cost-effectiveness of the Fish and Wildlife Program. New information would be valuable to answer questions such as: When will there be important opportunities to change the project? Are there alternative approaches to achieving the goals of the project that might be considered in the future? What are the major uncertainties that affect the long-term costs or the benefits of the project? How vulnerable is the project to uncertainties that might affect the effectiveness of the project or require changes to the project approach?
- Consider establishing a dedicated endowment fund for unanticipated program costs, including but not limited to natural disaster costs.
An endowment fund could be designed to respond quickly and efficiently to provide emergency funding, reducing damages to fish, wildlife and important Program assets following unforeseen events. Such a fund, or funds, would provide the Budget Oversight Group with a flexible source of funding for unanticipated needs. The additional information on project uncertainties and vulnerabilities collected under recommendation 3 would help determine the size of such a fund, or funds.
- Create one or more staff positions at Bonneville with responsibilities in fixed asset accounting, operations and maintenance monitoring and budgeting, and endowment fund management for the Program.