April 4, 2008

Recommendation to Amend the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Program

Proposed Language Regarding the Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program

Submitted by the Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program

The Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program (CBWTP) was established by Bonneville and the Council in response to Provision A.8. of the 2000 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program amendments and Action 151 of the 2000 Biological Opinion for the Federal Columbia River Power System. Since 2002, Bonneville and the Council have worked with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to manage the CBWTP through a cooperative funding agreement. There are 11 entities participating in the CBWTP as qualified local entities (QLEs). They are the water agencies from the four primary basin states and seven non-profit organizations.

During the past five years the CBWTP has restored nearly 800 cubic feet per second and over 4 million acre-feet of water through a full range of transaction types and terms (from annual to permanent). Bonneville has invested nearly $14.5 million in the CBWTP in support of these efforts. These water transactions have improved habitat and water quality conditions on a number of key stream reaches throughout the Columbia Basin. In addition, the CBWTP has been successful in developing a market for instream water and been innovative in the use of a range of transaction tools to do so. According to an independent, third-party evaluator, the “CBWTP demonstrates strong leadership and has assembled a very constructive and collaborative community of grantees.” In short, the CBWTP is the proper mechanism for Bonneville to expand future flow restoration efforts in key stream reaches throughout the Columbia Basin.

Looking forward, it is essential that water transactions be implemented on key stream reaches targeted for flow restoration. Inadequate instream flow will continue to be a major factor limiting both habitat and water quality throughout the Columbia Basin. As a result, native salmonid populations and other aquatic species will suffer. This need is intensified by the projected impacts of climate change on water supply and human population growth on water demand. For example, global climate models for the mid-21st century show that the warmer temperatures projected for the Columbia Basin would decrease the snow covered area in the mountains and total winter snowpack, result in earlier snow melt early in the season, moving spring peak flows earlier in the year and increasing the time between snowmelt and fall rains, and decrease summer streamflow, increasing the frequency of significant low flow events. Concurrently, water demand for agricultural, industrial and municipal use will increase as the population of the Columbia Basin continues to rapidly grow.

In order to meet the needs of salmonids and other aquatic species, Bonneville shall fund the continuation of the CBWTP to pursue expansion of water right acquisitions in subbasins where water quantity has been identified as a primary limiting factor to meet the biological objectives within approved subbasin plans. The CBWTP will continue to support the full range of temporary and permanent transaction tools for instream flow restoration. The CBWTP will coordinate with the fish and wildlife agencies, tribes and other agencies to integrate instream water transactions with efforts to set and meet biologically defensible flow targets and habitat restoration goals that consider the potential impact of climate change. The CBWTP will coordinate with the fish and wildlife managers and other project sponsors to integrate instream water transactions with efforts to address other ecological factors that are limiting fish habitat and to develop cost-effective habitat monitoring standards. Other Bonneville funding efforts addressing flow restoration will coordinate with the CBWTP to ensure consistency. Bonneville funding of the CBWTP shall continue to accommodate associated transaction costs. In recognition of the timeframes necessary to successfully complete water transactions, Bonneville funding of the CBWTP within a given year shall be carried forward into the next year where a water right transaction has been proposed to the CBWTP but could not be completed in the same fiscal year. An alternative is to establish flexibility to fund transactions within a multi-year budget.

Since 2005, the CBWTP has also administered the process for Bonneville and the Council to review and approve funding for conservation easements under the pilot Riparian Conservation Easement Program. The easement program has been focused in the Columbia Cascade eco-province and represents an initial step by Bonneville and the Council to establish a distinct land acquisition program akin to the water acquisition program. Bonneville has provided $1.5 million to help fund two permanent conservation easements in the Methow Subbasin under the Riparian Conservation Easement Program. The CBWTP will seek closer integration of land and water acquisition activities by prioritizing riparian acquisitions that protect both land and water. The CBWTP will seek to expand an integrated land and water acquisition program to other priority anadromous fish habitat areas.


Submitted byCommentAttachment
Deschutes River ConservancySee attached.deschutes.pdf