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National Academy of Science to Review Basin Water Policies

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - December 20, 2002

A review of the available science surrounding salmon survival and the impacts of hydropower resources as well as municipal and irrigation water diversions in the Columbia River Basin in Washington begins in February.

The National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council appointed 13 scientists to complete the review and report their findings to the Washington Department of Ecology.

The review is the first step taken by Washington as it begins its Columbia River Regional Initiative, according to Ecology's Joye Redfield-Wilder.

"This is the first step of the Columbia River Initiative's goal to formally and independently review the science of fish survival and hydrology in the Columbia River," she said. "The state has contracted with the National Academy of Sciences to undertake this review. We're pleased the panel has been announced and look forward to the outcome of their work and the commencement of their first meeting in February in the Tri-Cities."

The NRC said it will specifically review the scientific knowledge related to the conditions that impact salmon survival rates, including hydropower, and will assess the risks to salmon at critical stages of their lives under a variety of water use scenarios.

The scientific review is just one action the state will take as a part of its Columbia River Initiative, a mostly public process that will address water withdrawals and their impacts on flows in the Columbia River needed for salmon survival. Ecology said there are hundreds of pending water withdrawal applications from potential Columbia River water users -- both municipalities and irrigators -- but there is little agreement "on the stream flows needed to support salmon. Litigation is being used increasingly to try to drive water policy, but it is resulting in additional gridlock"

The Columbia River Initiative is Washington's effort to decide rules for water management on the river outside of the court process, but it wants to do so from a scientific basis.

In late November, Ecology issued a water right to the cities of Pasco, Kennewick, Richland and West Richland to develop 178 cubic feet per second of water over the next 50 years. That agreement was the result of a settlement in Benton County Superior Court that gave the water right, but the agency agreed to mitigate the withdrawal for the next six years with water it already had purchased from Walla Walla irrigators.

Soon after, Ecology and the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association agreed to free up seven pending water permits from the Columbia River that were in line to receive permits before the quad cities if they choose to participate in a mitigation plan, according to Redfield-Wilder. The plan asks water users to pay $10 per acre-foot per year, with the income going to buy water that offset the impacts of the withdrawals in low water years. The water users' option would be to subject their water withdrawals to a NOAA Fisheries decision that, in essence, requires bucket for bucket mitigation.

"We believe the settlement agreement provides a good framework upon which to build a comprehensive water management plan for the Columbia River," Redfield-Wilder said recently. "More information and specific details will be developed as part of the Columbia River rulemaking process in which we are now engaged."

Ecology wants the Columbia River Initiative to define how it should allocate water while preserving the environment, including providing for the needs of endangered salmon and steelhead. It wants a new rule that says how it will manage water, a list of actions it needs to take to enhance water supply and give fish their due, and how to fund all of it.

In addition to working with those most affected by water resources in the Columbia River Basin, Ecology will complete an economic review of how water is related to the region's economy and productivity.

The NRC committee will meet four times during 2003 and plans to issue its report in spring 2004. Its first meeting is scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Richland. Appointed to the review committee are:

Ernest T. Smerdon, chair, University of Arizona (Emeritus), Tucson
Richard M. Adams, Oregon State University, Corvallis
Donald W. Chapman, Don Chapman Consultants, Inc., Boise, Idaho
Darrell G. Fontane, Colorado State University, Fort Collins
Albert E. Giorgi, BioAnalysts, Inc., Redmond, Washington
Helen M. Ingram, University of California, Irvine
W. Carter Johnson, South Dakota State University, Brookings
John J. Magnuson, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Stuart W. McKenzie, U.S. Geological Survey (retired), Gresham, Oregon
Diane M. McKnight, University of Colorado, Boulder
Tammy J. Newcomb, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Lansing
Kenneth K. Tanji, University of California, Davis
John E. Thorson, consultant, Oakland, California

Related Sites:
National Academy of Sciences:
Washington Department of Ecology:

Mike O'Bryant
National Academy of Science to Review Basin Water Policies
Columbia Basin Bulletin, December 20, 2002

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