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Ecology and salmon related articles

Testimony of Frank L. Cassidy, Jr.

Chairman of the Northwest Power Planning Council
Representing Gary Locke, Governor of Washington.
9/13/00 - Delivered before the Committee on Environment and Public
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Works


Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, my name is Frank L. Cassidy, Jr., and I am chairman of the Northwest Power Planning Council. Today, I also am representing the Honorable Gary Locke, Governor of Washington.

The Power Planning Council is an agency of the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. Under the Northwest Power Act of 1980, the Council conducts long-range electric energy planning and analysis, and also prepares a program to protect, mitigate and enhance fish and wildlife of the Columbia River Basin that have been affected by hydropower dams.

The Council's Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife program directs the annual expenditure of about $130 million in electricity ratepayer funds to mitigate the impact of federal hydropower dams in the Columbia River Basin on all fish and wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. With Snake River dam breaching off the table for at least five years, which coincidentally is the Council's statutory planning horizon, fish and wildlife recovery efforts in the Columbia River Basin will require undertakings and efforts with the dams in place. This means a strong emphasis on improving spawning and rearing habitat, changing hatchery and harvest practices to support rebuilding naturally spawning fish populations, and improving both smolt and adult fish passage survival throughout the basin, including at the dams. These are key elements of the Council's Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, which has been in effect since 1982, and they also are addressed in the fish recovery recommendations issued in July by the Governors of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. As a matter of record, and on behalf of the Power Planning Council, I would like to thank the Governors for their valuable contribution to the effort to devise regionally acceptable fish recovery plans. I hope the federal action agencies will carefully review the Governors' recommendations in finalizing the draft biological opinions.

The Power Planning Council's Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program is the region's largest single effort to enhance fish and wildlife survival. Currently, the Council is amending the program with basinwide goals, biological objectives and action strategies, along with a scientific foundation of ecological principles. The basinwide goals and objectives will guide the Council's program, which will be implemented in the future primarily through locally developed action plans.

More than at any time in the past, the Council's fish and wildlife program, which is the region's program, and the federal recovery program for salmon and steelhead (the draft 2000 biological opinions and the so-called "All-H" paper) appear to be moving in the same direction. Both emphasize actions to improve fish spawning and rearing habitat, reform hatchery practices and give new direction to harvest policy and management. Both also leave the hydrosystem intact for the near-term and would direct actions to improve fish passage and survival at the dams and in the rivers.

We are pleased to see a strong role for the Power Planning Council in the federal biological opinions and conceptual recovery plan, and we look forward to working with the federal fish and wildlife agencies to improve the scientific credibility and the public accountability of the region's fish and wildlife recovery efforts.

The National Marine Fisheries Service's biological opinion places special emphasis on off-site habitat improvements (i.e., mitigating for hydrosystem impacts in areas located away from the hydrosystem) and calls for creating performance standards to guide habitat restoration. Again, this is consistent with the Council's direction in our fish and wildlife program, which relies on off-site mitigation as a means of addressing the impact of the hydropower system. This work has been under way for nearly 20 years through our program, and we welcome the federal agencies' call for additional off-site mitigation to help avoid jeopardy and comply with the Endangered Species Act.

The federal biological opinions call for reforming fish production facilities to minimize harm to fish that spawn in the wild, and also for using conservation and supplementation hatcheries to bolster weak populations and avoid extinction. The federal documents recommend future fish hatchery policies and reforms be consistent with those recommended by the Power Planning Council in our report submitted to Congress last year on artificial production. We also intend to incorporate those recommendations and policies into our program as the basis for our future funding recommendations for artificial production facilities in the Columbia River Basin.

The federal documents also propose several key reforms in fish harvest policies and management. First, the federal agencies recommend selective fishing techniques and terminal fishing opportunities to reduce impacts on listed fish. These proposals are consistent with activities already funded through the Council's program, including the successful Select Area Fisheries Enhancement program that is creating commercial salmon fishing opportunities in Youngs Bay near Astoria, Oregon, and elsewhere in the lower Columbia River. The federal agencies also propose actions to reduce fish harvest and, as a result, impacts on ESA-listed species. Again, these proposals are consistent with policy and direction in the Council's program and the draft program amendment.

The federal action agencies propose to develop these habitat, hatchery and harvest actions through one-year and five-year implementation plans, focusing first on high-priority subbasins where there are listed species. We see an opportunity for the Council and the action agencies to work together in designing these plans, as the action agencies propose to rely on coordination and support from the Council in developing the implementation plans. The Council will provide this coordination and support through subbasin planning. In our draft fish and wildlife program amendment, we propose to implement our program primarily at the subbasin level through locally developed subbasin action plans.

We see a number of opportunities in this cooperative planning effort, beyond simply clarifying who will take responsibility for actions in the federal high-priority subbasins. The Council would have the opportunity to help frame the federal action plans, and the federal agencies would be able to participate in regional planning processes such as the Council's annual fish and wildlife project-funding review and recovery planning being undertaken by the states. This coordination would help avoid duplication among the processes and also encourage, and perhaps ensure, that the federal, regional and state plans are consistent. For example, the action agencies plan to define their initial five-year implementation plan by Jan. 31, 2001. Using this plan as guidance, the federal agencies plan to participate in regional processes, such as the Council's review of projects funded through its fish and wildlife program. The agencies plan to complete their initial one-year plan by September 1, 2001, about the same time the Council will recommend projects to Bonneville to implement the fish and wildlife program in Fiscal Year 2002.

The Council would, therefore, have the opportunity to ensure that its recommendations to Bonneville for project funding take into account the direction in the federal agencies' five-year and one-year plans. Similarly, by participating in the Council's project review, the action agencies would be able to incorporate information from the Council's regional process into their implementation plan. Such collaboration by the region and the federal agencies can only help ensure more effective efforts to protect, mitigate, enhance, and recover species in the Columbia River Basin.

As with subbasin plans that will implement the Council's program, there are benefits to implementing endangered species recovery through one-year and five-year action plans. The plans offer the opportunity to identify progress and actions needed to achieve hydrosystem and offsite habitat mitigation performance standards. The plans could integrate actions affecting hydrosystem operation, configuration, research and monitoring and evaluation. The plans could establish priorities to guide regional planning and inseason actions, and they also could support funding requests.

We note four areas where the biological opinions need further refinement:

First, the opinions are specific in the types of actions that are needed to avoid jeopardy, but they are general in describing where these actions are needed and in defining schedules for accomplishing them. More specificity is needed about which actions could be provided in the subbasin plans developed through the Council's planning process.

Second, the federal documents call for improving stream flows -- actions regarding water quantity and quality, and fish passage -- but again are short on details. These need to be better articulated in the final documents.

Third, cost estimation is incomplete and needs much more detail. As I noted earlier, our staff analyzed the river flow operations proposed in the biological opinions and concluded they would reduce hydropower generation by 87 average megawatts. This would be in addition to hydropower operations in the 1995-98 biological opinion, which currently reduce hydropower generation by 1,152 average megawatts, at an estimated annual cost of $219 million in foregone power revenues and replacement power costs, compared to the amount that would be available if the system were operated only for power generation.

While 87 additional megawatts is a small amount of power at a relatively small annual cost (about $12 million to $15 million) compared to the output of the system and Bonneville's annual revenues, the problem we see is that the loss is not uniform through the year and, in fact, is quite large in winter months. For example, the additional flows that would be required to protect listed chum salmon in the lower Columbia River would boost hydropower generation in November by about 1,400 megawatts. However, releasing that much water in November would take away water from generation in December and January -- 1,000 megawatts in December and 1,500 in January -- when we believe the power system will be stressed and most susceptible to reliability problems. In fact, in our recent study of the reliability of the regional power system we concluded the greatest risk -- a 24 percent probability -- of being unable to meet demand for electricity is in the winter months, particularly in January if there is an extended period of cold and dry weather. Thus we are concerned about the possibility of losing 1,500 megawatts of generation in January.

Regardless of whether these or other new hydrosystem operations are included in the final biological opinion, the Council's mission under the Northwest Power Act to protect, mitigate and enhance fish and wildlife while assuring the Northwest an adequate, efficient, economical and reliable power supply makes clear our responsibility: to identify other sources of power -- a combination of renewable resources and distributed generation, for example -- and energy conservation and other means of reducing demand for power, in order to provide equitable treatment for fish and wildlife with other purposes of the hydropower system.

Protocols should be established, if they are not already, for Bonneville to decide when, and under what conditions, spill required under the biological opinion would be curtailed in order to boost hydropower generation. Decisions to reduce spill, which could harm migrating juvenile anadromous fish, or to continue spilling when demand for power is high, need to be based on clear protocols and be clearly articulated for the public.

Fourth, the biological opinions designate priority subbasins for actions to assist endangered and threatened species, but do not specify how these actions would be funded. Because the Council's fish and wildlife program is designed to benefit all fish and wildlife in the basin, including listed species, we have been addressing listed species through a number of actions in the program for years. A significant portion of the approximate $130 million annual budget for the direct program over the last five years has benefited species of concern under the Endangered Species Act. In fact, the 1996 Memorandum of Agreement between the Clinton Administration, the Council and Columbia Basin Indian tribes, which established Bonneville's fish and wildlife budget for the 1996-2002 time period, also set aside about $30 million in Bonneville funding to pay for measures that might be required by the 1995-1998 Biological Opinion. Today, about $2.5 million remains.

However, we are concerned that Bonneville might be called on to fund additional measures in the high-priority subbasins in order to comply with the 2000 biological opinions, thus taking funding away from efforts to mitigate the impact of the hydropower system on fish and wildlife elsewhere in the Columbia River Basin. Two of the high-priority subbasins are downstream of Bonneville Dam. In the past, the Council's program has contained few measures downstream of Bonneville Dam, other than in the Willamette River Basin, because the majority of hydropower impacts are above Bonneville. For Fiscal Year 2001, the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority (CBFWA), which represents the region's state, federal and tribal fish and wildlife managers, has identified nearly $140 million in projects for funding through the Council's program. If the Council were to follow CBFWA's recommendations, there would be little if any room in Bonneville's budget to finance activities in the biological opinions. For that reason, we believe that the Administration should prepare and submit for Congress' consideration a supplemental appropriations request for Fiscal Year 2001 for actions that address the reasonable and prudent alternatives proposed in the draft biological opinions, particularly those proposed for lower-Columbia listed species.

In my testimony, Mr. Chairman, I have pointed out some of the similarities between the draft biological opinions and the Council's draft amended fish and wildlife program. The draft program amendment constitutes a major change in the way we fulfil our mandate under the Northwest Power Act to protect, mitigate and enhance fish and wildlife of the Columbia River Basin that have been affected by hydropower.

Unlike past versions of the program, which were criticized by independent scientists for consisting primarily of a number of measures that called for specific actions without a clear, programwide foundation of scientific principles, the new program will express goals and objectives for the entire Columbia River Basin based on a scientific foundation of ecological principles. Currently, we are amending the program with basinwide goals, biological objectives, and strategies to achieve the objectives and a scientific foundation. We expect to complete this phase of the rulemaking in October. Then we will begin developing subbasin action plans for each of the 53 subbasins of the Columbia, which are arrayed within 11 geographic provinces. These plans, which will be developed locally, will be consistent with the goals and objectives for the basin -- thus, the goals and objectives we are developing now will guide the development and implementation of the subbasin plans. As I noted earlier, this provides an opportunity for the federal action agencies to participate in developing the plans so that the region has a consistent approach to species recovery.

The Council believes this unique program structure, goal-oriented and science-based, will result in a more carefully focused, scientifically credible and publicly accountable program that will direct the region's substantial fish and wildlife investment to the places and species where it will do the most good.

It is an action-focused plan, as are the federal agency biological opinions. In addition to emphasizing locally developed action plans, the Council proposes to create either a trust or a separate fund for habitat and water acquisitions in recognition of the habitat-restoration focus of our program. We also propose to establish criteria for "early action projects" -- those with a demonstrated need to move more quickly than the normal planning procedures would allow.

The Council's draft amended fish and wildlife program addresses all of the "Hs" of impacts on fish and wildlife -- habitat, hatcheries, harvest and hydropower:

Primarily, it is a habitat-based program, directing significant attention to rebuilding healthy, naturally producing fish and wildlife populations by protecting and restoring habitats and the biological systems within them.

The draft requires that fish hatcheries funded by Bonneville operate consistent with reforms recommended to Congress by the Council last year, reforms that would shift hatchery production away from a primary focus on providing fish for harvest to also providing fish to rebuild naturally spawning populations.

The draft amendment will assure that subbasin plans are consistent with harvest management practices and will increase opportunities for harvest wherever feasible, while at the same time avoiding interceptions of threatened and endangered species whenever possible.

The draft program amendment focuses on providing conditions in the Columbia River Basin hydroelectric system that most closely approximate natural physical and biological conditions with the dams in place.

To conclude, Mr. Chairman, the Council is proposing a fundamentally new management style for our fish and wildlife program, one that focuses on locally developed action plans with clearly stated goals and objectives that are consistent with goals and objectives for the entire Columbia River Basin. Our program will articulate a scientific foundation for action, and we will continue to submit each project proposed for funding through our program to review by a panel of independent scientists as required by the Northwest Power Act. We will reform hatchery practices for those facilities funded through our program, and we will work to integrate harvest into our planning so that harvest and hatchery policies and practices do not work at cross purposes -- raising fish for harvest that cannot be caught because of harvest restrictions imposed to protect threatened and endangered species. We also will continue to account for ocean conditions in our decision-making, and we will work to improve data collection and management and project monitoring and evaluation so that we, and others in the region, can gain a better understanding of what is working, what is not working and what might be done to improve our efforts.

All of these elements are part of a recovery and mitigation effort that we look forward to pursuing in collaboration with the federal action agencies through locally developed action plans. Ultimately, this collaboration will improve the public accountability and scientific credibility of all our efforts.

Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to speak today. I would be pleased to answer any questions.


Frank L. Cassidy, Jr., Chairman of the Northwest Power Planning Council
Testimony of Frank L. Cassidy, Jr.
Committee on Environment and Public, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Works - September 13, 2000

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