The Northwest Power Act contains language promoting the cost-effectiveness of the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program (the Program). The Independent Economic Analysis Board (IEAB) assists the Council in its responsibilities with respect to cost-effectiveness. Perhaps the two most common questions the IEAB fields are “What has the Council done to ensure that the Program is cost-effective?” and “What else could be done to make the Program more cost-effective?” This paper attempts to address these questions.
Part I of this paper documents how changes in project management, scientific review, and planning have been used to promote scientific assessment and cost-effectiveness of the program. This section, written with Council staff, provides a historical perspective on the progress of the Program over time.
Following a 1996 amendment to the Act that strengthened cost-effectiveness considerations for the Program, the Council developed a paper that included four strategies for improving the cost- effectiveness of the Program. Those strategies are:
- Ensure the biological effectiveness of Program measures
- Increase the use of cost analysis in project selection and prioritization
- Analyze project histories in more detail
- Improve project contract management by the Bonneville Power Administration
There has been progress in each of these areas since the Council’s first Program. The Program includes a large science component whose main purpose is simply to ensure that projects have benefits for fish and wildlife. Increased focus on the science of fish and wildlife recovery actions was promoted even before the 1996 amendment to the Act with the formation of the Independent Science Group in 1995 and its predecessor groups dating back to the first Program in 1982. Their paper on “Return to the River” focused planning on ecological and biological foundations. Following the 1996 amendment, the Council created three independent scientific groups to help enhance the effectiveness of fish and wildlife projects. The Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP) provides the Council with independent scientific review of fish and wildlife projects. The Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) fosters a sound scientific approach to the recovery and research programs of NOAA Fisheries, the Council, and the Columbia River Tribes. The Council established the Independent Economic Analysis Board (IEAB) in November 1996 to advise the Council on cost-effectiveness and other economic issues associated with the Program.
The work of these boards has not only improved the biological effectiveness of projects, it has also contributed to improved project management and review and increased reporting, data availability, and cost review. Specific examples include development of project proposal forms that improve the amount and consistency of information provided, improved data and models to track and assess the status of fish and wildlife, and project management systems such as Bonneville’s Pisces and Taurus programs. A number of Bonneville and Council management initiatives have sought to document and control costs and compare projects in terms of their purposes and costs to avoid wasting Program, state, and federal funds.
In addition to progress on the individual project level, recommendations of the independent boards and Council actions have improved the overall effectiveness of the Fish and Wildlife Program. For example, the ISRP played an important role in developing improved proposal requirements, subbasin planning, and categorical reviews, all of which contribute to an improved Program. Four broad retrospective reviews of Bonneville funded projects were produced by the ISRP in 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2011 to help assess Program accomplishments and identify potential improvements. The Council has made gradual improvements to the Program in terms of more specific objectives, overall Program framework, rebuilding targets, implementation plans, and measurable performance standards. The Council is further refining the biological objectives of the Program. This initiative will play a key role in tracking the effectiveness of the Program and prioritizing actions to most cost-effectively reach its goals.
In summary, there is good reason to believe that the cost-effectiveness of the Program has improved greatly over the nearly 30 years since passage of the Northwest Power Act. For the most part, these improvements cannot be measured in monetary terms for each increment of improvement in fish and wildlife population or survival. Rather, the improvement has occurred incrementally over time and in ways that do not attract much recognition. The improvements result from improved scientific assurance of fish and wildlife enhancements, greater specificity of project goals, improved management of project costs, better reporting and data on projects, greater coordination among projects within subbasins, and more specific Program goals and tracking of accomplishments.
In spite of the many important improvements in management, science, and planning, the IEAB believes that further cost-effective improvements are possible. Part II of this paper discusses how additional effort, information, and analysis might be used to further improve the cost- effectiveness of the Program.
First, cost-effectiveness involves comparison of alternative ways of accomplishing a given goal. Past efforts at considering alternatives, and the future potential range and timing of alternatives, are not well-documented. Future efforts to consider alternatives and their costs would benefit from this documentation.
Opportunity for improved cost-effectiveness of the overall Fish and Wildlife Program can be identified through continued work to refine Program objectives to be comparable to measurable Program accomplishments. In addition, expanded analysis of groups of projects with similar geographic coverage, species focus, or other objectives can reduce overlap and redundancy among projects, identify opportunities for collaboration, and help set priorities within limited budgets to maximize benefits to fish and wildlife.
The greatest opportunity for analyzing and improving Program cost-effectiveness lies in improved quantification of fish and wildlife benefits. The limited ability to measure effects of actions on fish and wildlife health and abundance has hindered cost-effectiveness analysis. Thus, progress in identifying and quantifying biological benefits would greatly aid cost-effectiveness considerations in the Program.
A first step in improving the measurement of fish and wildlife benefits would be development of additional quantitative measures of improvements in fish and wildlife habitat benefits. Current examples of such measures include wildlife habitat units, mainstem passage measures, and use of tools like EDT (Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment) to estimate the benefits of physical improvements to habitat. Additional efforts are underway to address this need with quantitative estimates of survival effects of suites of actions under the biological opinion, and development of quantitative measures of survival benefit units in the estuary. If these efforts are successful in providing measures of benefits related to particular actions, the feasibility of more formal cost-effectiveness analysis will be enhanced.
Improved measurement of the biological effects of alternative actions, and their costs, would improve the ability to make cost-effectiveness comparisons. The IEAB recognizes that the measurement of the effects of actions on fish and wildlife is the province of biologists and the IEAB proposes to work more closely with the other independent science groups to identify how evolving measures of biological effects might be used to further advance Program cost-effectiveness.
Part II of the report also explains how comparisons of alternatives and their costs might be applied at various scopes; such as within projects, within subbasins, across subbasins, across species, and across jurisdictions. The first step in such analysis is to better understand the range and timing of discretion in Program spending alternatives. Improved information on alternatives, costs, and effectiveness could inform project proposals and facilitate prioritization within the Fish and Wildlife Program. However, the scope for trade-offs and prioritization within the Program is limited to some degree by treaties, ESA requirements, the fish and wildlife accords, and required Council deference to fish and wildlife agencies and tribes.