The Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Bureau of Reclamation have signed new, four-year agreements totaling about $420 million to fund fish and wildlife mitigation projects, extending the 10-year Columbia Fish Accords that expired in September. In a news release issued October 12, Bonneville Administrator Elliott Mainzer said the Accord extensions “ensure we will continue to benefit from years of collaboration and direct coordination with our Accord partners,” adding “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.”
In describing the Accord extensions to the Council at its October meeting in Wenatchee, Bryan Mercier, executive manager of Bonneville’s fish and wildlife division, said he had heard from tribal leaders who signed Accords that “we have moved from gavel to gavel to gravel to gravel,’ and that’s true.” Some of the Accord partners litigated against Bonneville over its Endangered Species Act responsibilities in the past.
Accords were extended with the Shoshone Bannock Tribes, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, and the states of Idaho and Montana. According to a news release issued by the three federal agencies, since 2008 the Accord agreements “have 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 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The agreements also committed funding for hatcheries.”
Council members expressed concern about certain language in the Accord extensions, particularly an assertion by Bonneville that a measure in the Council’s 2014 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program calling for a three-phased investigation of reintroducing anadromous fish – salmon and steelhead – above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams does not meet the requirements of the Northwest Power Act, and that Bonneville is due deference in deciding what is a Program measure and what is not. In a letter 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. The letter continues, “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.
Council members had other concerns about the Accord extensions. Several said Bonneville 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.”
In the original Accords in 2008, Bonneville committed approximately $100 million a year to the Accord projects, for a total of about $1 billion over 10 years. In the 2018, four-year extensions Bonneville commits to spend about $450 million while the three federal agencies complete a court-ordered environmental impact statement (EIS) on operations of the Columbia River hydropower system. The EIS is due in 2022.