The Council this month began a year-and-a-half long process to revise its Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, which directs more than $250 million a year to address the impacts of hydropower dams on fish and wildlife. The Council began the process with a letter requesting recommendations to amend the Program. Recommendations are due September 14. See the letter, staff memo, timeline, and instructions on how to submit recommendations.
Under the Northwest Power Act of 1980, the federal law that authorized the four Northwest states to create the Council, the Fish and Wildlife Program is intended to “protect, mitigate, and enhance fish and wildlife, including related spawning grounds and habitat, on the Columbia River and its tributaries …affected by the development, operation, and management of [any hydroelectric project] while assuring the Pacific Northwest an adequate, efficient, economical, and reliable power supply.” The Act also directs the Council to ensure widespread public involvement in the formulation of regional power and fish and wildlife policies.
The Power Act requires the Council to review the Program for revision at least every five years. The last revision was in 2014. Because the Program contains recommendations for operating the mainstem dams in ways that can take water away from hydropower generation, such as spill in the spring to help juvenile salmon and steelhead migrate to the ocean, the Program amendment is followed immediately by a revision of the Council’s Northwest Power Plan. Among other things, the Power Plan replaces the lost hydropower, typically with new energy efficiency measures.
As a planning, policy-making, and reviewing body, the Council develops the Program and then monitors and coordinates its implementation by the Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and its licensees. Those federal agencies operate federal dams and, in the case of FERC, license non-federal dams in the Columbia River Basin. Projects that implement strategies and objectives in the Program are developed and carried out by state fish and wildlife agencies, Indian tribes and others and are overseen and mostly funded by Bonneville.
Revisions of the Program begin with the Council requesting recommendations from the region’s federal and state fish and wildlife agencies and Indian tribes. Once the period for recommendations closes, the Council invites public comments on the recommendations, then produces a draft Program for public comment including public hearings in the four Northwest states and consultations with interested parties – states, tribes, utilities, Bonneville customer utilities, fish and wildlife agencies, and so one. After closing the comment period and following a review and deliberation period, the Council adopts the revised Program. On the current schedule, the Council would accept recommendations into mid-September, produce a draft Program in early 2019, and then adopt the new Program in September 2019.
While the Council accepts recommendations on any subject relevant to the Program, the letter requesting recommendations notes specific issues and asks about them as questions to help guide recommendations. These include:
- Should the Council adopt an action plan to identify the priority actions that need implementation in the next five years?
- Are there changes that should be made in the Program strategies and measures to ensure that past, current and future mitigation investments addressing hydrosystem impacts perform as intended over-time in the face of existing and future threats such as from non-native species and climate change?
- Are there areas of the Program that should be considered a Program priority but are not being implemented or are underrepresented?
- Are there areas of the Program that are no longer effective and should be revised or eliminated?
- The Columbia River System Operations National Environmental Policy Act Review and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will define and evaluate alternatives for how the federal river management agencies will meet their statutory responsibilities, including those under the Northwest Power Act and to the Council’s Program. Are there ways in which the Council should amend the Program’s measures or its implementation to better relate to or influence that review or the implementation of the Program after the completion of the EIS?
- Are there additions or changes needed for mainstem water management, reservoir management, and passage operations to better meet Program fish survival goals?
- Can we improve our habitat strategies and measures to better meet Program goals, and how can we better evaluate and document the collective benefit of off-site habitat actions?
- What potential is there for additional habitat capacity in both currently accessible areas as well as non-accessible (blocked) areas? What key actions should be taken to realize this increased capacity?
- How should we consider the effects of density dependence on our ability to achieve our abundance and production goals?
- What wildlife mitigation for construction and inundation losses remains, and what wildlife issues or implementation measures should be addressed in the next Program?
- How well are hatcheries contributing to Program goals, and do we need to improve monitoring to track their performance over time?