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Subbasin Plans Make Deadline

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - June 4, 2004

Now Comes Science Review

Relief, accomplishment and, in some respects, disbelief were the most common feelings expressed this week as the Northwest Power Planning Council's subbasin planning process reached an milestone with fish and wildlife action plans flowing in from all corners of the Columbia River Basin.

A few draft subbasin plans arrived earlier but the bulk of the 58 documents came in on the submittal deadline, May 28. The NPCC expects the plans will guide fish and wildlife program spending in the years to come. A cursory review of the proposed fish and wildlife program amendments over the past weekend revealed quality work, pieced together largely at the subbasin level by biologists, local government entities and other stakeholders.

"It was simply amazing that we got every piece of every plan" before the clock struck 12 on Friday, said Lynn Palensky, the Council's subbasin planning coordinator.

The documents, ranging from fewer than 100 pages to tomes that absorb the space of an entire CD-ROM, were packaged Tuesday (June 1) and sent off by overnight mail to the Independent Scientific Review Panel. The ISRP's members will have until Aug. 12 to assess whether the plans meet specified scientific criteria. A schedule has been set up stretching into late July for individual subbasin plan presentations to the ISRP.

Concurrently, Council staff will be reviewing the documents to determine their "adoptability" under standards set out in the Northwest Power Act and in the 2000 amendment to the program that describes basinwide objectives and strategies for fish and wildlife. General public comment on the plans will be open for the same time period.

A "response" period is included in the schedule from the end of the public comment until Nov. 1. That time is allowed for the Council, staff and subbasin planners to correct any deficiencies that might be identified in the plans. Plans believed to be adoptable will then be shaped into draft "amendments" to the fish and wildlife program and offered by the Council for public comment through mid-December. The target date for release of the drafts is Nov. 18.

The Council has indicated that it would like to formally adopt final plans or amendments during its December and January meetings. The process was launched early in 2002 with a solicitation for recommended amendments to the fish and wildlife program. The subbasin planning process was accorded a budget of $15.2 million. All but about $1 million of that amount has been spent. The allocation was made through the fish and wildlife program, which is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration as mitigation for federal hydrosystem impacts on Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife.

The Council's central office staff sent out notification via mass e-mailing that the plans are now available. The documents are posted on the NPCC web site,

All lines to the subbasin plans except for one are live," Palensky said. The Owyhee subbasin planning group was granted an extension until June 10.

"I got a chance to look through about five (of the submitted plans)," Karl Weist of the NPCC's Oregon office said. "They all looked pretty good. Planners have followed the outline to the letter." All strategies seemed at first glance backed by a wealth of data and analysis.

"People have done a yeoman's job," Weist said of the workload that snowballed as the May 28 deadline approached. Oregon planners were involved in the shaping of plans for 21 subbasins, some entirely within the state and some shared with neighboring states. The Columbia Basin includes territory in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington with a slice of theOwyhee in Nevada as well.

Idaho's state subbasin planning coordinator, Tom Dayley, said the process has brought value beyond what can be draw directly from the plans' content. In many cases state and tribal interests, farmers, ranchers, local government entities and other stakeholders engaged in problem solving together as they had never done before.

"They made gigantic strides" in forming relationships, Dayley said. "Local people came up with their ideas of how they wanted to have things done." They took various routes to get to this end point, and produced documents of varying form but with all of the needed ingredients.

"(The Council) tried not to be any more prescriptive than necessary," Dayley. The idea was to allow independent thinking on how to reach a common goal -- subbasin plans supported by assessments of fish and wildlife and habitat conditions and limits and inventories of past and ongoing fish and wildlife efforts.

"In some cases we had a very short time frame" to produce the plan and had to start from scratch by bringing together the local stakeholders, Dayley said. In other instances, the elements of planning entities were already established. There are 19 subbasins either partially or entirely within the state of Idaho. Some include a wide range of fish and wildlife species. Others, such as those that salmon and steelhead species cannot access, are less varied. Access to Montana's subbasins are also blocked to anadromous fish.

Washington likewise has a mixture of blocked and unblocked areas. Planners in the state were involved in the creation of 31 plans, several of which were shared with other states. Again, most of the plans get positive reviews after that first look.

"I have been truly humbled by the fact that some truly brilliant, capable people have been involved" in the assembling of data, analysis and assembling of the plan, said Tony Grover, Washington's statewide subbasin planning coordinator. Likewise, he said, the effort has been intensive and extensive with those involved logging considerable unpaid overtime to get the job done.

"I heard many stories of people sleeping in their offices" or working through night as the deadline approached, Grover said. "As far as I know the stress levels were as high as they've ever been."

"Every single subbasin turned in a plan on time," Grover said.

Related Sites:

Barry Espenson
Subbasin Plans Make Deadline; Now Comes Science Review
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 4, 2004

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