Next month the Council will begin a review of 134 salmon and steelhead projects in the Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program that address operations and maintenance of salmon and steelhead hatcheries and fish-diversion screens, habitat restoration, artificial production activities, and monitoring and evaluation projects. The review is expected to take 14 months and will include a review of all the projects by the Council’s Independent Scientific Review Panel. The review is limited to ongoing projects.
While project sponsors may recommend new work within their projects, it is unlikely there will be additional funding for such expansions. The Bonneville Power Administration, which finances projects in the Council’s program, has indicated the program budget will be maintained at or below the rate of inflation.
The Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee discussed the upcoming project review at its January meeting. Several committee members expressed concern about Bonneville’s funding decision.
“We are concerned about losing project productivity over time if sponsors believe the flatline budget situation means they can’t do as much work because of reduced funding and increased costs,” Fish and Wildlife Division Director Patty O’Toole said. “But at the same time we want to be careful and not encourage people to submit ideas for new work to grow the program. We are trying to manage this carefully.”
Addressing other members of the committee, Guy Norman, a Washington member of the Council and committee chair, agreed it is important to “temper false expectations given where Bonneville is fiscally.” He added he is concerned about compromising projects and not meeting objectives, a perspective shared by Oregon Member Ted Ferrrioli, who said he feared that a flatline budget could lead to “a program of diminishing returns.” Idaho Council Member Jeffery Allen said Bonneville’s financial situation “is not breaking news,” and that Bonneville’s budget decision “paints the right picture” for project sponsors. Norman added, “I agree that we need to plan for this and understand how to meet project objectives given Bonneville’s financial situation.”
The committee asked the Fish and Wildlife Division staff to track the impacts of flat funding on implementation of the Council’s program as the review progresses.
A list of all projects currently scheduled for review is included in this staff memo.