The Bonneville Power Administration is identifying potential cuts in the budget of the Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, which the federal power marketing agency funds and which directs some $300 million annually to protect and restore fish, wildlife, and habitat that have been affected by hydropower dams.
Meeting with the Council this month in Missoula, Bonneville’s executive manager for fish and wildlife, Bryan Mercier, said the agency is working with its fish and wildlife project contractors to find spending cuts that will total about $30 million, or about 10 percent of the Program budget in 2018.
Negotiations now underway will result in a reduced Program budget by October 1, the start of the next federal fiscal year. That includes reviewing nine Columbia River Fish Accords, which Bonneville signed 10 years ago with four tribes, three states, and two other federal agencies. The Accords expire in September. Mercier said Bonneville is talking with tribes and states about possibly extending the Accords. While the expiring Accords were for 10 years; the next agreements may last just through 2022 and may be tied to a new salmon/steelhead environmental impact statement and biological opinion for the Federal Columbia River Power System that is due that year.
Mercier said fish and wildlife budget negotiations are just beginning and he should have more information for the Council in August. He said he was pleased with the negotiations so far, saying that “for the most part, sponsors have been collaborative and helpful.” He said the goal is to “squeeze as much value as possible from each contract” and “try to avoid decisions that negatively affect fish.”
While there is no anticipated deadline for deciding what to do with the Accords, it’s an important issue to the Council, which currently is accepting recommendations through mid-September to amend its Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. Projects funded by the Accords are outside the Program, but without some sense of the future of the Accords it will be difficult for the Council and its partners to determine what should be in the next Fish and Wildlife Program, Council members told Mercier.
“It would be nice if we could get the Accords wrapped up sooner than later because a lot of the cost cuts are coming from Accord projects,” said Bill Booth, an Idaho member of the Council. “People are wondering, ‘what about 2019?’ This puts us in a bind. I think you should make it a priority to get the Accords deals worked out.”
Oregon Council member Ted Ferrioli agreed. “The longer we have uncertainty about the Accords, the longer we will have to put off our decisions. I hope you move quickly. The Accords will help us with the mission we are tasked to do.”
The budget-cutting is not only occurring in Bonneville’s fish and wildlife division but agency-wide, as Bonneville’s power currently is priced well above prices in the West Coast wholesale power market. Bonneville’s administrator, Elliott Mainzer, told the Council last month cost reductions are necessary to bring down the cost of power and retain customers when the current power sales contract expire in 10 years.
Meanwhile, some budget cuts already have been identified, and Mercier and Tony Grover, the Council’s fish and wildlife director, reviewed them:
- Reduce the Columbia Basin Water Transaction Program funding by $1 million from $7 million annually.
- Reduce StreamNet funding by at least $54,000 and reduce funding to other data management efforts. These programs organize data about ongoing fish and wildlife projects and make them available publicly.
- Eliminate Select Area Fisheries Enhancement (SAFE) funding over three years. The project raises salmon in net pens in bays adjacent to the Columbia River estuary to direct harvest of fish away from the main channel of the river and protect weak populations such as ESA-listed salmon and steelhead. The program was planned to be self-sufficient, but it hasn’t been.
- Reduce Lower Snake River Compensation Plan funding by $3 million. This program, implemented primarily at the Lyons Ferry Fish Hatchery, assists in the recovery of Chinook salmon populations affected by the federal dams on the lower Snake River. Bonneville pays for it. The current budget is $34 million a year; cutting $3 million would take it to $31 million, and the current plan is to spend only about $30 million so there would be little, if any, effect.
- Eliminate most funding, about $5 million, for the Columbia Habitat Monitoring Program and the Integrated Status and Effectiveness Monitoring Program. Data collected through these two programs informs research, monitoring, and evaluation efforts funded through the Fish and Wildlife Program.