Testimony of David Cottingham
9/13/00 - Delivered before the Committee on Environment and Public
Good morning Mr. Chairman. I am David Cottingham, Special Assistant to the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I appreciate this opportunity to present testimony on behalf of the Service regarding the status of the biological opinions on the operations of the Federal hydropower system of the Columbia River. The Service is conducting a consultation on the operations of Federally-owned hydropower facilities on the Columbia, Snake, Clearwater, and Kootenai Rivers in the Columbia River Basin of the Pacific Northwest. We are consulting with the following action agencies: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration, and the Bureau of Reclamation. At issue are the effects of operating the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) on the endangered Kootenai River sturgeon, threatened bull trout, and, to a limited degree, the threatened bald eagle.
The Service received two Biological Assessments from the action agencies in June 1999 and in December, 1999. Those documents described the operations proposed for the Federal hydropower facilities. Since that time we have been working closely with the action agencies and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to complete this consultation. Several coordination meetings were held in the spring of 2000 between representatives of the action agencies, the Service and NMFS. We shared a preliminary draft biological opinion with these agencies in May, 2000. Comments on the preliminary draft opinion were received in June, 2000. The draft opinion was released to states and tribes for comment on July 27, 2000.
Throughout this process, an emphasis has been placed on discussion of key issues, including minimization of adverse effects to sturgeon and bull trout from the FCRPS operations in the Upper Columbia River. Our draft opinion requests adjustments to the operations and ramping rates at Hungry Horse, Libby, and Albeni Falls dams. We are also asking the Army Corps of Engineers to continue to study alternative pool elevations at Albeni Falls to increase Kootenai River sturgeon spawning for bull trout food source. The draft opinion also addresses actions at Libby Dam to allow increased flows to achieve flow objectives for sturgeon, while controlling additional total dissolved gas.
The Service has worked closely with NMFS throughout this process to ensure that the FCRPS operations to benefit sturgeon and bull trout do not conflict with those for salmon or steelhead.
The current schedule includes receiving comments on the "All H" paper (hydropower, hatcheries, habitat and harvest issues), and the draft opinions of the Service and the NMFS in late September, 2000. These documents are now available for review by states, tribes, and other affected entities. We will then complete the opinion and accompanying documents as quickly as possible.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I will be happy to answer any questions you and members of the Committee may have.
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