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Governors, Power Council Take Case to Congress

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - September 15, 2000

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and representatives of other Northwest governors and the Northwest Power Council this week went to Washington, D.C., to seek a greater role for states in salmon recovery.

They testified at a Senate hearing, and Kempthorne met with two Cabinet members about the issue -- Secretary of Commerce Norman Mineta and Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt. Kempthorne was accompanied by Idaho Attorney General Al Lance.

Kempthorne pushed for adoption of the agreement among the four Northwest governors reached this summer as the basis of a Columbia Basin salmon recovery plan.

He said federal agencies did not collaborate with the states in developing their draft basinwide plan or on the biological opinion for the federal hydropower system, both of which were issued in July. Some elements of the administration's strategy are compatible with the governors' proposals but others are not, Kempthorne said.

"Only through a regional collaborative effort will there ever be a real chance for recovery of anadromous fish in the Pacific Northwest," he testified on Wednesday before the Senate Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Water.

He said he and the governors of Washington, Oregon and Montana had made some tough compromises but were united in their commitment to salmon restoration. Kempthorne said his message was: "Listen to the states."

Subcommittee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, agreed. After two days of hearings, Crapo declared that he had heard almost no support for the administration's plan. In fact, the BiOp has been criticized "by virtually everyone with whom I've talked," he said. "The draft document is a very faulty product that has been developed in a very deficient process."

Crapo urged federal officials to use the next few months to work "more collaboratively with the region, and get it right."

He said he would hold additional hearings on the BiOp in Washington, D.C., and in the region.

Kempthorne said he did not want to rule out the possibility that the BiOp can be "brought around to being much more in line with" the governors' proposals.

"The four governors have done a good job in identifying both the proper focus on where the real problems are and real balance among various solutions," Crapo said.

The two Idaho Republicans also agreed in opposing federal proposals for additional water flows from their state or the removal of four Snake River dams, which the administration wants to keep as a potential future option.

Neither option is acceptable or workable, they said. Instead, they urged salmon recovery measures backed by the governors, particularly removal of a predatory tern colony near the mouth of the Columbia River and restrictions on salmon harvest in the ocean and river.

Kempthorne and Crapo said breaching advocates were using the threat of flow augmentation in an effort to frighten Idaho irrigators into supporting dam removal.

The governors' strategy calls on NMFS to document the benefits of flow augmentation rather than assume automatically that it will help salmon, Kempthorne said.

John Etchart, Montana Gov. Marc Racicot's representative and a member of the Northwest Power Planning Council, said the governors have forwarded their plan to Mineta.

Racicot "strongly believes that efforts to recover salmon and steelhead are a priority for the Pacific Northwest, including Montana, but also believes that the governors of the four states, in conjunction with the Northwest Power Planning Council, should have more legal responsibility to develop and implement recovery plans for the listed species."

The governors' input needs to be factored into the BiOp and the basinwide salmon plan before they are finalized, he said.

The states' agreement is "a comprehensive, no-nonsense package of recommendations that covers all the major areas of emphasis, including habitat reform, hatcheries, harvest, the hydroelectric system and the recognition that the impact on the region's people and our economic way of life comprises an important fifth 'H,'" Etchart said. "The governors were not afraid to take some bold stands on some of the thorniest issues we face."

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber believes that in some instances, the governors' recommendations are preferable to, and even more specific than, those in the biological opinion, said Eric Bloch, an Oregon member of the Power Council and its vice chairman.

The agreement was "a clear recognition that, although at this time there is not political consensus among the four Northwest Governors on the fate of the lower Snake River Dams, there is still much that can be done to restore the Columbia River ecosystem," Bloch said. "The recommendations reflect agreement among the governors about actions that can be taken immediately to help the fish."

At the same time, Kitzhaber believes both the BiOp and the states' proposals must be strengthened to more accurately reflect the extinction risk for salmon and "more closely approximate the breadth and intensity of effort required for an effective basinwide recovery plan," Bloch said.

Oregon has criticized the draft BiOp's scientific assessment for underestimating extinction risks.

Power Council Chairman Frank Cassidy, representing Washington Gov. Gary Locke, said the council was working with federal agencies to coordinate salmon recovery efforts. The council, which directs spending of about $130 million per year on Columbia fish and wildlife projects, is moving in a similar direction as the federal government, Cassidy said.

The administration's BiOp and basinwide salmon strategy and the council's upcoming five-year fish and wildlife plan both emphasize actions to improve fish spawning and rearing habitat, reform hatchery practices and change harvest management, he said. Also, both leave the federal hydropower system intact for the near term, instead directing improvements to fish passage and survival at dams and in-river, Cassidy said.

But he said the BiOp needed refinement in several areas.

-- While the types of actions that are needed to avoid jeopardy are specific, more specificity is needed about timelines for accomplishing them and the subbasins to be addressed.

-- Actions to improve stream flows through water quantity and quality and fish passage also are "short on details" and need to be better articulated.

-- Cost estimation is incomplete and needs much more detail. A Power Council staff analysis of the BiOp's proposed river flow operations concluded they would reduce hydropower generation by 87 average megawatts at a cost of $12 million to $15 million in foregone power revenues for the Bonneville Power Administration. "The problem we see is that the loss is not uniform through the year and, in fact, is quite large in winter months," Cassidy said. "We are concerned about the possibility of losing 1,500 megawatts of generation in January."

Clear protocols should be established for Bonneville to decide when, and under what conditions, spill would be curtailed in order to boost hydropower generation or when to continue spilling when demand for power is high, he said.

-- Designation of priority subbasins for actions to assist endangered and threatened species do not specify how these actions would be funded. "We are concerned that Bonneville might be called on to fund additional measures in the high-priority subbasins in order to comply with the 2000 biological opinions, thus taking funding away from efforts to mitigate the impact of the hydropower system on fish and wildlife elsewhere in the Columbia River Basin," Cassidy said.

The administration should submit to Congress a supplemental appropriations request for Fiscal Year 2001 for actions that address the reasonable and prudent alternatives proposed in the draft BIOp, particularly those proposed for lower-Columbia listed species, he said.

In other testimony, Etchart highlighted 10 common proposals as representative of the governors' recommendations:

1. The president should designate one official in the region to oversee the federal recovery efforts and serve as a single point of contact.

2. Federal agencies should develop a long-term management plan to address predation by fish-eating birds and marine mammals.

3. The National Marine Fisheries Service should work with the region to conduct an intensive study on the impact of the ocean on fish recovery, including the impact of predation, lack of food sources, temperature problems and harvest regimes.

4. The use of spill should be improved - in duration, timing and quantity - at all federal hydroelectric projects, but not necessarily increased.

5. Flow augmentation should continue as a key mainstem strategy, but federal agencies should document its benefits of flow augmentation and the precise attributes that make it beneficial.

6. To reduce harvest impacts on listed fish, more selective fishing techniques and a license buyback program that can reduce the current excess fishing capacity should be instituted.

7. Harvest rates must ensure sufficient escapement to rebuild declining stocks, and terminal fisheries should be established in appropriate areas.

8. Harvest goals must be linked to fish production goals, and hatchery operations must be modified so that fish are not being produced for fisheries where they cannot be harvested because of impacts on weak stocks.

9. Consistent with the Power Council's Artificial Production Review, the region's fish managers and tribes should jointly develop a comprehensive supplementation plan that includes aggressive monitoring and evaluation.

10. To facilitate a robust harvest program from hatchery fish in a way that does not impact wild fish, a program that results in the marking of hatchery fish that pose threats to ESA-listed fish should be implemented to the fullest extent consistent with the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

Governors, Power Council Take Case to Congress
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 15, 2000

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