Fish and Wildlife Program Cost Efficienciesby Tom Iverson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - March 5, 2004
Regarding the story, "BPA's ‘Sounding Board' Looks At NPCC Fish Program Budget," in the Feb. 27 CBB:
The CBB reported that at least several commentors offered opinions on the need for cost efficiencies in the Fish and Wildlife Program. It's apparent that many believe these efficiencies are not yet built into the program. I believe that's not the case.
The Direct portion of the Fish and Wildlife Program consists of projects that were first scrutinized for both effectiveness and total cost by the 19 agencies and tribes of the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority (CBFWA). The managers are motivated by the need to accomplish critical mitigation projects and research in a very limited financial environment. All projects are then reviewed by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's (Council) Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP) for their technical merit and consistency with subbasin goals, objectives and plans. The ISRP has not been reluctant to point out low priority tasks or excessive costs. During the past three-year Rolling Province Review, approximately $250 million worth of projects per year were deemed fundable by both CBFWA and the Independent Science Review Panel. Budget constraints prevented most of these worthy projects from moving forward, although the fish and wildlife managers still believe a more aggressive program is badly needed to restore and protect fish and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin.
The Council's staff then reviewed all projects for consistency with the Fish and Wildlife Program, their scientific merit and total cost. For the last two years, almost all ongoing projects have been level funded; even those whose out-year plans might have contemplated increases. Projects are prioritized on this basis to be squeezed within the available budget. Unfortunately many good projects recommended by both the managers and the ISRP failed to receive needed funding each year. The Council recommendations totaled approximately $175 million each year of the Rolling Province Review.
Further, Bonneville Power Administration's (BPA) staff of biologists and contract officers scrutinized the projects for their ability to meet their Endangered Species Act and Northwest Power Act responsibilities at the least cost. Individual tasks from Council-recommended projects may be dropped and funding reduced at BPA's sole discretion. BPA has actually funded approximately $145 million per year of the Council's Rolling Province Review recommendations over the last two years. For this work, BPA charges a significant administrative overhead (staff cost) to the Fish and Wildlife Program. When you add that to the cost of the Council and their staff, the cost of the ISRP and CBFWA, we are currently spending well over 10 percent of the Fish and Wildlife Program funds to ensure biological integrity and cost effectiveness.
The Fish and Wildlife Program is one of the only (if not the only) program at BPA that has come in under-budget every year (with those savings being diverted to other programs within BPA). To consider further cuts to the Fish and Wildlife Program as a part of across-the-board cuts within BPA is both unfair and inequitable. If, after the aforementioned level of scrutiny, there are still glaring inefficiencies in the projects comprising the Fish and Wildlife Program, then perhaps we'd better focus our efforts on finding a more efficient and effective way of providing regional confidence in implementing the Fish and Wildlife Program. The Fish and Wildlife Program is well supervised, heavily scrutinized, and provides clear benefits- witness the tremendous salmon returns that we have experienced in the last three years (this is not all due to favorable ocean conditions).
Finally, the Sounding Board needs to focus on the true costs to the BPA ratepayer. Spill and flow for fish operations is the only foregone revenue calculated as a BPA operating cost. Flood control, irrigation, navigation, and subsidized electricity all have foregone revenue impacts associated with them, yet their "costs" are never calculated. And, by the way, the fish operations are based in law (Northwest Power Act, Endangered Species Act, and Tribal Trust responsibilities) as an authorized purpose of the hydrosystem along with flood control, irrigation and navigation. Fish and wildlife recovery and protection is not a luxury of the hydrosystem, it is a requirement.
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