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Commentaries and editorials

River System Improvement
Plan Revised

by Brig. Gen. D. Peter Helmlinger
The Columbian, February 3, 2019

Recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration (as co-lead agencies) announced an accelerated schedule for completing the Columbia River System Operations environmental impact statement. With this new timeline, we anticipate implementing measures that benefit endangered salmon and steelhead one year earlier.

Regional stakeholders want to know how we will meet our commitment to complete this comprehensive evaluation while meeting the requirements of the process spelled out in the National Environmental Policy Act and while remaining consistent with the Oct. 19, 2018, Presidential Memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West. This memorandum calls on federal agencies to streamline their decision-making and coordination.

Our answer: Through greater efficiencies in cross-agency coordination and review, and timely input and collaboration among federal and state agencies and regional tribes.

We will identify potential alternatives to current operations and maintenance to improve the coordinated water management functions of the 14 federal Columbia River System projects and remain committed to evaluating potential breaching of the lower Snake River dams.

Decisions, trade-offs
Operated as one complex system to meet their multiple congressionally authorized purposes, the dams, navigation locks, fish ladders and other supporting facilities contribute to public safety, the national economy, clean energy production, fish and wildlife conservation, irrigation and other essential roles.

The outcome of this NEPA process, under the deadline of the new schedule, will inform long-term decisions and trade-offs that will balance the demands on the projects while minimizing their environmental impacts in the Columbia River Basin. Using current science, we will update water management strategies to be responsive to changing conditions, including hydrology, climate and the environment. We will evaluate the system to further improve fish passage and survival in concert with the other authorized purposes of the dams, including the continued production of an adequate, efficient, economical and reliable supply of hydropower.

On behalf of the co-lead agencies, I want to emphasize that this environmental impact statement remains a top priority as our analyses consider the public input obtained during the scoping period and concerns about potential impacts from changes to how we operate this system. We will continue meaningful collaboration with regional tribes and federal and state agencies as our NEPA Cooperating Agencies. And we will meet all regulatory requirements for public comment.

We will continue to provide information about our projects in the Columbia River Basin, help the region understand the NEPA process and track our development of the draft EIS and explain how to provide input. You will find this information on the CRSO EIS web site,, over the coming year.

We are pleased with the possibility of implementing improvements to the Columbia River System sooner with this revised schedule.

Brig. Gen. D. Peter Helmlinger is commander of the Northwestern Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and is responsible for five operating districts, in Portland, Seattle, Walla Walla, Kansas City, Mo., and Omaha, Neb. These districts manage water resources infrastructure for economic growth and environmental sustainability in the Columbia and Missouri river basins.
River System Improvement Plan Revised
The Columbian, February 3, 2019

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