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U.S. House Nixes Salmon Rehab Funding Hikes

by Larry Swisher
Capital Press - August 8, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives has rejected most of President Bush's funding increases for Columbia Basin salmon recovery next year.

Instead, the Fiscal Year 2004 budgets for the most expensive programs aimed at restoring endangered salmon runs would remain unchanged from this year, under key appropriation bills that have passed the House. The Senate has yet to act on the bills.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council and the region's members of Congress supported Bush's $17 million overall increase to implement the so-called non-breaching Columbia Basin salmon recovery plan.

The president's budget "represents the minimum necessary to maintain progress toward eventual completion," Councilwoman Judi Danielson of Idaho said in a letter to House appropriations Committee leaders in April.

This year, $285.3 million is being spent by 11 federal agencies on habitat improvement, fish passage at dams and other measures to implement the Columbia Basin salmon plan and biological opinion. Another $90 million in federal grants this year will go to Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California for coastal salmon habitat restoration.

The Columbia Basin funding is spread among several of the 13 appropriation bills that Congress passes each year. The most recent House action came on two of them - one for energy and water resource programs, and the second for the departments of Commerce, State and Justice. Both have passed.

In its energy and water bill, the House provided $85 million for fish mitigation projects at Columbia and Snake river dams, the same as this year but $10 million less than Bush sought in his budget. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers program pays for construction of juvenile and adult fish screens, collectors, ladders and bypasses.

The bill also did not include Bush's request for a $4 million increase in the Bureau of Reclamation's budget to implement its part of the salmon plan. Instead, spending would remain at $15 million, primarily for leasing water from Idaho irrigators to provide additional flows and spills at downriver dams for migrating salmon.

The increase is slated to pay for projects to improve fish survival at non-federal irrigation diversions and canals, but the bureau lacks legal authority to construct fish screens or remove barriers at such facilities. congress has not acted on proposed legislation to give it the authority.

Although that legislation is still pending in another Senate committee, the Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved the bureaus' $4 million increase in drafting its version of the energy and water spending bill.

House appropriations leaders criticized Bush's FY04 budget for underfunding Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation construction projects sponsored by members of Congress. As a result, they were forced to find money to continue the projects in other parts of the agencies' budgets, they said.

Energy and water appropriations subcommittee chairman David Hobson, R-Ohio, said he hoped to "start a dialogue" with administration officials on the need to increase the civil works budgets.

"We're not investing enough in our economic infrastructure," Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind., the top subcommittee Democrat, agreed.

The Department of Commerce appropriation bill that passed the House has also reduced Bush's budget for implementing its biological opinion for the Columbia Basin salmon plan.

The National Marine Fisheries Service's budget for Pacific salmon recovery totaled $35.8 million, down more than $2 million from this year.

The agency, also known as NOAA Fisheries, sought an increase for research, monitoring and evaluation required by the salmon plan and biological opinion. Scientific information is needed to asses whether the non-breaching performance measures are being achieved and to address uncertainties about salmon survival and the effects of hatchery programs on the productivity of naturally spawning fish.

Congress also turned down a similar increase for research last year.

It its letter, the power council urged Congress to reconsider that action.

"To the extent that funds are not appropriated for these activities, more pressure will be placed on the Bonneville Power Administration electrical ratepayers to fund them," Danielson said.

The commerce spending bill would provide $90 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, the same as this year. The grants would be allocated as follows: $28 million to Washington; $22 million to Alaska; $14 million each to Oregon and California; $9 million for Pacific coastal Indian tribes; and $3 million for Columbia River tribes.

A fifth state, Idaho, would become eligible for a share of the fund, under legislation that has previously passed the House and died in the Senate.

At the request of Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who became a committee member this year, the House energy and water appropriations subcommittee said it would consider reallocating the $90 million if the legislation becomes law this year.

Larry Swisher , a columnist based in Washington, D.C., writes for Pacific Northwest newspapers.
U.S. House Nixes Salmon Rehab Funding Hikes
Capital Press, August 8, 2003

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