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Bonneville Finalizes $31.5 Million in Mainstem Projects

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - October 10, 2003

A Bonneville Power Administration funding decision finalized late last week both squeezes and expands budgets, and ushers fish and wildlife projects on and off the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's recommendation list, in balancing the fiscal 2004-2006 budget for the mainstem/systemwide "province."

The bottom line was developed over the past several months in consultation with the Council, NOAA Fisheries and fish and wildlife managers. The goals -- holding overall spending within the mainstem/systemside category's $31.5 million allocation while both honoring NPCC spending recommendations and meeting federal responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act.

BPA has said an average of $139 million would be available annually to fund NPCC fish and wildlife program project expenses through 2006. Additionally, $36 million is potentially available for capital projects. The $139 million is allocated across 10 geographical provinces in the Columbia Basin and the mainstem/systemwide category.

The Council in June recommended a set of mainstem/systemwide research and administrative projects totaling $31.5 million in expenses. In August, BPA announced that it was in accord on $25 million worth of projects recommended by the Council. The latest decision by BPA, which funds the program with revenues from power sales, offers a slightly different list of projects to absorb the remaining available funding.

The Council did not get all of its wishes granted, but the BPA decision is a reasonable compromise given the limited funding, according to Doug Marker, NPCC fish and wildlife director.

"They (BPA officials) worked very hard to honor the Council's recommendations," Marker said. "I appreciate how seriously they took the exercise."

Bonneville's decision brings funding to 37 of the 43 projects recommended by the Council or 86 percent, according to the decision letter signed by Bob Austin, BPA's deputy fish and wildlife director.

The BPA decision provides funding for six projects that the Council recommended against funding. Half of those projects are intended to address actions called for in NOAA Fisheries' Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion to improve survival of ESA listed salmon and steelhead.

The decision also identifies six research monitoring and evaluation projects costing $1.5 million that are necessary for BiOp implementation. Those projects too were brought into the program via a "request for studies." The NPCC in its recommendation had earmarked $1.8 million for the projects.

Austin's letter says the agency believes "this decision has attained adequate coverage for Research, Monitoring and Evaluation categories described in the NOAA Fisheries Biological Opinion for operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System." BPA, which markets energy produced in the federal power system, is one of three action agencies charged with implementing BiOp provisions. The agency was pressing to get RM&E projects under way in time for the 10-year BiOp's 2003 "check-in."

Three projects recommended by the Council were not funded by Bonneville. The projects, totaling $596,000 in requests, involved research related to Hanford Reach fall chinook, the thermal requirements of lamprey, and FDA registration of erythromycin. All three will be phased out during 2004.

Austin's letter also suggested that two projects be funded "elsewhere in the Fish and Wildlife Program budget: wildlife operation and maintenance expenses (in specific provinces) and IBIS Database (through the subbasin plannning allocation)." The Council had recommended that IBIS be funded at $432,926 in 2004 and at $583,902 in 2005 and 2006.

Seven projects recommended by the NPCC had budgets modified as a result of BPA's funding decision. The biggest swing was for the northern pikeminnow management program. The Council had recommended that the requested budget, $2.8 million, for the program that pays bounties to sport anglers for pikeminnow be cut in half. The Council and its staff theorized that most of the programs benefits -- a reduction in pikeminnow predation on salmon -- could be preserved despite the funding cut.

BPA, on the other hand, said in its "second stage" decision that analysis showed a budget cut that deep would serve to cut the "exploitation" rate or removal of pikeminnow in half as well.

"This would be too low to allow any meaningful biological evaluation of program effectiveness," according to Bonneville's rationale for bumping up the budget to $2.2 million in 2004 and a projected $2.05 million in 2005 and 2006.

". future funding must sustain survival benefit," the decision said. Among the pikeminnows' prey are ESA-listed juvenile salmon and steelhead.

The BPA decision also provided $300,000 in 2004 funding for the avian predation study, citing its applicability to the BiOp and the need for the data as other federal agencies prepare an environmental impact statement related to the management of Caspian terns in the Columbia River estuary.

"We wanted to see information coming forward needed by the Corps for its EIS," Austin said.

The Council, in advising against funding for the project, said that the goal of determining the effect the fish-eating terns had on juvenile salmon had been accomplished. The research has been in progress since 1997.

BPA said the study's objectives remain a high priority, but offered only $300,000 in funding for 2004, $250,000 in 2005 and $150,000 in 2006 in urging the researchers to find alternative funding sources. Nearly $700,000 had been requested for 2004.

The researchers say they would like to continue the research as planned.

"We're still hoping we find funding," said Dan Roby of Oregon State University, one of the project leaders.

The BPA decision also cuts funding for the Comparative Survival Rate Study of hatchery PIT-tagged chinook -- from the Council's recommendation of $1.7 million in 2004 and 1.8 million in 2005 and 2006 to $828,535 each year.

"Other projects also provide estimates of the benefit of transportation, delayed transportation mortality and effects of multiple bypass," according to BPA comments on the project. Its funding decision held the study at 2003 levels instead of allowing an increased scope of work.

The CSS study is sponsored by the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority and Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission.

Related Sites:
Columbia Bird Research:

Barry Espenson
Bonneville Finalizes $31.5 Million in Mainstem Projects
Columbia Basin Bulletin, October 10, 2003

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