Federal Government Releases its Operational
by Katy Nesbitt
"Breaching the dams has been identified as the best thing for fish. I think they gave that analysis short shrift."
PENDLETON -- A final plan impacting the Columbia River system released earlier this month has some anglers and conservationists still looking for more answers.
The Preferred Alternative in the Columbia River System Operational Final Environmental Impact Statement includes structural modifications to some of the dams to benefit passage of adult salmon, steelhead and Pacific lamprey.
Greg Haller of Pacific Rivers said the plan does not represent a major system overall and he is not convinced the spill option benefits juvenile fish.
"Going with a flexible spill agreement as a long term solution is a bad choice," he said. "Breaching the dams has been identified as the best thing for fish. I think they gave that analysis short shrift."
Additionally, proposed operational changes in the upper basin would avoid adverse effects to resident fish, including federally protected bull trout and Kootenai River white sturgeon.
The Preferred Alternative uses what it calls innovative dam operations that balance fish benefits and energy goals by spilling more water in the spring for juvenile fish passage, and claims it provides reliable flood risk management, water supply for irrigation, municipal and industry use, water, and flexibility in hydropower generation.
Haller said the plan will likely end up in court and would like to see a political solution.
"I think Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson has the right ideas to provide a regional solution," he said. "This requires elected leaders to stand up and lead to a conclusion that is supported by science, the economic realities of the system and climate change."
Taking out a dam, Haller said, is a great way to address climate change by building resiliency into a natural river system to let it flow and allow the water to stay cooler.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, has been active in talks regarding the Snake River dams and said he is open to working with his Northwest colleagues on these issues.
"An issue as complex as river restoration, and especially the restoration of rivers with dams affecting their flow and ecosystems, requires everyone's best efforts," Wyden said. "I always believe that bipartisanship is about taking everyone's best ideas and working together to make them even better. I have worked closely with Mike Simpson on fire borrowing, and appreciate his willingness to take on the tough issues."
Jim McKenna, a police analyst for Oregon Gov Kate Brown, said management of the Columbia River system is of keen interest to Oregonians since it directly affects fish, sovereign tribal rights and cultural needs, power generation and distribution, flood control, irrigation, commerce and recreation.
McKenna said earlier this year the state submitted detailed comments on the draft plan and staff members are reviewing the final plan and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's biological opinion.
"Based on our initial review of the final EIS it appears the federal action agencies missed the opportunity to meaningfully address the information and commitments needed to protect and recover imperiled salmon and the orca forage they provide," McKenna said.
He went on to say that while NOAA's associated biological opinion recognizes the importance of spill, it also appears to have missed the opportunity to move the fish and region forward on salmon recovery.
"Instead the final plan stepped backward by utilizing approaches and analyses that Oregon has previously prevailed on in court," McKenna said.
Some anglers and fishing guides who fish the tributaries of the Columbia and Snake rivers are concerned that these measures may not be enough for the long-term survival of salmon and steelhead runs.
Cameron Scott, an English teacher and long-time guide, fished the Touchet and Tucannon rivers as a Whitman College student. Scott, who moved to Wallowa County primarily to fish for steelhead, said 20-plus years ago he thought the solution was simple to preserving anadromous fish in the tributaries -- take out the Snake River dams.
"It seemed so obvious that you just remove them," he said, "but the more discussions I had, the more I understood how complex it is."
While he said he understands there is a balance to be struck among the rivers' users, Scott said fears over time there is a real danger that anadromous fish will disappear from the Columbia Basin -- and fish are as much a part of the economy as they are of the ecology.
"I've seen the impacts on the Clearwater River when they closed the fishery -- loss of jobs, tourists, and money going to local economies and livelihoods," Scott said.
With an eye on the removal of the Elwha and Klamath river dams, Scott said it makes him wonder about the possibilities and the balancing of power, transportation and water in a world growing hotter and hotter, causing fish die-off in low water areas of the Columbia.
"I think it will take an international effort to keep those fisheries going, with all of the entities involved, including farmers and fishermen, all at the table together seeking the solution," he said.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration completed the operations plan in response to a U.S. District Court of Oregon Court Opinion and Order to review and update management of the Columbia River System and evaluate impacts to resources with new information and changed conditions in the basin since the last comprehensive update issued in 1995.
Completion of the plan was expedited by the 2018 Presidential Memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West. The memo called for "streamlining regulatory processes and removing unnecessary burdens on the Columbia River Basin water infrastructure," and directed a variety of federal agencies, working under the direction of the Secretary of the Army, to develop a schedule to complete the Columbia River System Operations Environmental Impact Statement and the associated Biological Opinion by 2020.
Presidential Memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West
Energy & Environment, October 19, 2018
MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR
THE SECRETARY OF COMMERCE
THE SECRETARY OF ENERGY
THE SECRETARY OF THE ARMY
THE CHAIR OF THE COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
Subject: Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby direct the following:
- Section 1. Policy.
During the 20th Century, the Federal Government invested enormous resources in water infrastructure throughout the western United States to reduce flood risks to communities; to provide reliable water supplies for farms, families, businesses, and fish and wildlife; and to generate dependable hydropower. Decades of uncoordinated, piecemeal regulatory actions have diminished the ability of our Federal infrastructure, however, to deliver water and power in an efficient, cost-effective way.
Unless addressed, fragmented regulation of water infrastructure will continue to produce inefficiencies, unnecessary burdens, and conflict among the Federal Government, States, tribes, and local public agencies that deliver water to their citizenry. To meet these challenges, the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce should, to the extent permitted by law, work together to minimize unnecessary regulatory burdens and foster more efficient decision-making so that water projects are better able to meet the demands of their authorized purposes.
- Section 2. Streamlining Western Water Infrastructure Regulatory Processes and Removing Unnecessary Burdens.
To address water infrastructure challenges in the western United States, the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce shall undertake the following actions:
- Within 30 days of the date of this memorandum, the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce shall:
- identify major water infrastructure projects in California for which the Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce have joint responsibility under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) (Public Law 93-205) or individual responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) (Public Law 91-190); and
- for each such project, work together to facilitate the designation of one official to coordinate the agencies' ESA and NEPA compliance responsibilities. Within the 30-day time period provided by this subsection, the designated official shall also identify regulations and procedures that potentially burden the project and develop a proposed plan, for consideration by the Secretaries, to appropriately suspend, revise, or rescind any regulations or procedures that unduly burden the project beyond the degree necessary to protect the public interest or otherwise comply with the law. For purposes of this memorandum, "burden" means to unnecessarily obstruct, delay, curtail, impede, or otherwise impose significant costs on the permitting, utilization, transmission, delivery, or supply of water resources and infrastructure.
- Within 40 days of the date of this memorandum, the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce shall develop a timeline for completing applicable environmental compliance requirements for projects identified under section 2(a)(i) of this memorandum. Environmental compliance requirements shall be completed as expeditiously as possible, and in accordance with applicable law.
- To the maximum extent practicable and consistent with applicable law, including the authorities granted to the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (Public Law 114-322):
- The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce shall ensure that the ongoing review of the long-term coordinated operations of the Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project is completed and an updated Plan of Operations and Record of Decision is issued.
- The Secretary of the Interior shall issue final biological assessments for the long-term coordinated operations of the Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project not later than January 31, 2019.
- The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce shall ensure the issuance of their respective final biological opinions for the long-term coordinated operations of the Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project within 135 days of the deadline provided in section 2(c)(ii) of this memorandum. To the extent practicable and consistent with law, these shall be joint opinions.
- The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce shall complete the joint consultation presently underway for the Klamath Irrigation Project by August 2019.
- The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce shall provide monthly updates to the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and other components of the Executive Office of the President, as appropriate, regarding progress in meeting the established timelines.
- Sec. 3. Improve Forecasts of Water Availability.
To facilitate greater use of forecast-based management and use of authorities and capabilities provided by the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017 (Public Law 115-25) and other applicable laws, the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce shall convene water experts and resource managers to develop an action plan to improve the information and modeling capabilities related to water availability and water infrastructure projects. The action plan shall be completed by January 2019 and submitted to the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.
- Sec. 4. Improving Use of Technology to Increase Water Reliability.
To the maximum extent practicable, and pursuant to the Reclamation Wastewater and Groundwater Study and Facilities Act (Public Law 102-575, title XVI), the Water Desalination Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-298), and other applicable laws, the Secretary of the Interior shall direct appropriate bureaus to promote the expanded use of technology for improving the accuracy and reliability of water and power deliveries. This promotion of expanded use should include:
- investment in technology and reduction of regulatory burdens to enable broader scale deployment of desalination technology;
- investment in technology and reduction of regulatory burdens to enable broader scale use of recycled water; and
- investment in programs that promote and encourage innovation, research, and development of technology that improve water management, using best available science through real-time monitoring of wildlife and water deliveries.
- Sec. 5. Consideration of Locally Developed Plans in Hydroelectric Projects Licensing.
To the extent the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce participate in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensing activities for hydroelectric projects, and to the extent permitted by law, the Secretaries shall give appropriate consideration to any relevant information available to them in locally developed plans, where consistent with the best available information.
- Sec. 6. Streamlining Regulatory Processes and Removing Unnecessary Burdens on the Columbia River Basin Water Infrastructure.
In order to address water and hydropower operations challenges in the Columbia River Basin, the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Energy, and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works under the direction of the Secretary of the Army, shall develop a schedule to complete the Columbia River System Operations Environmental Impact Statement and the associated Biological Opinion due by 2020. The schedule shall be submitted to the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality within 60 days of the date of this memorandum.
- Sec. 7. General Provisions.
- Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
- the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or
- the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
- This memorandum shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
- This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
- The Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.
DONALD J. TRUMP
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