This review is a follow-up to a previous ISRP review. In January 2003, as specified in the 2000 Fish and Wildlife Program and requested by the Council, the ISRP completed a review of the criteria for evaluating proposals to secure tributary water for the Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), Pacific Northwest Regional Office, administers this five-year, Bonneville Power Administration-funded program that is charged with increasing tributary flows in the Columbia River Basin through innovative water transaction projects. The Foundation receives, evaluates, and ranks innovative water proposals submitted by qualified local entities using the criteria being reviewed here; obtains BPA approval on selected projects; and facilitates the implementation of those BPA approved projects.
For the January 2003 review, the ISRP participated in an iterative feedback and revision process that resulted in a final set of criteria and questions that requested the necessary information to scientifically review and prioritize water transaction proposals. Importantly, the final criteria included questions that would help identify and prioritize proposed transactions that offered the highest potential benefit to fish, wildlife, and the ecosystem and would ensure adequate monitoring and evaluation is in place.
After a year of use, the NFWF and BPA determined that the criteria needed to be revised to help make the documents flow better, help organize responses, and streamline the review process of individual transactions. Even though the changes were primarily in the format and sequencing of items in the documents, the NFWF and BPA requested that the ISRP review the revised criteria.
The ISRP's role in reviewing the criteria is important because the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, not the ISRP, evaluates proposals. Given this absence of ISRP proposal review, the Water Transactions Program criteria need to be inclusive of and consistent with the criteria from the 1996 Amendment to the Power Act, which directs the ISRP to review projects in the context of the Council's program and in regard to whether they:
- are based on sound science principles;
- benefit fish and wildlife;
- have clearly defined objectives and outcomes; and
- have provisions for monitoring and evaluation of results.
The ISRP believes that the revised 2004 Water Transactions Program criteria and checklist continue to satisfactorily incorporate all the elements from the 1996 Amendment, solicit the necessary information to scientifically review and prioritize water transaction proposals, and capture the reoccurring technical questions that are likely to arise in the proposal review process. In sum, the criteria ensure the accountability needed given the absence of ISRP review of individual transactions.
The ISRP would like to be briefed on the Council, BPA, NOAA, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's impressions of the program, the use of the criteria after its first year of implementation, and how effective the program appears to be in restoring continuous flow to streams that will be robust to dry years. Such a briefing would help the ISRP better understand the ability of potential participants to propose projects; i.e., whether the process and criteria are so onerous as to discourage participation. The ISRP recognizes that many of the criteria it suggested require some detailed hydrologic and biologic knowledge. Although the Qualified Local Entities or NFWF may provide the needed technical support, the ISRP suggests that the criteria list may be more helpful to the applicant if it provided sources for some of the information sought (e.g., where does one get the GPS coordinates or the HUC number?). This might be done in an instruction sheet or some such appendix, or footnotes. Making the form easy to use ought to be a priority.
As an expansion to the hydrologic and biologic criteria, one technical point that might be especially useful for a decision maker could be generated by questions such as: Would the acquired flow make the difference between intermittent flow and continuous flow in the stream reach in most years, in dry years? Would this occur at a time when fish need access to the reach?