Recovery costs balloon to $1/2 billion
Largest ecosystem project in the U.S.
Newer obligations, old oblgations and other agreements continue to drive up funding for what Bonneville Power Administration officials say is likely the country’s largest ecosystem improvement program.
The overall annual costs for Bonneville’s Columbia River basin fish and wildlife program this fiscal year and next is expected to nudge above $500 million, and rise up nearer $550 million for fiscal years 2016-2017. That annual spending has risen from about $330 million during the 2007-2009 time frame.
“It’s a lot of money, but it’s a lot of progress too,” Lorri Bodi, BPA’s vice president of Environment, Fish and Wildlife, told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council last Wednesday.
BPA markets power generated in the federal Columbia/Snake river hydro system and is obligated under the Northwest Power Act to mitigate for dam impacts on fish and wildlife. The agency also has obligations under the Endangered Species Act and under long-held treaties with Columbia Basin tribes to restore fish and wildlife populations.
Those obligations rose in 2008 with completion of a federal plan – NOAA Fisheries’ Federal Columbia River System biological opinion -- aimed at improving ESA-listed salmon and steelhead survivals by investing in habitat, and improved hatcheries and hydro system passage. In that same year BPA and federal agencies signed “Fish Accords” with treaty tribes and states that pledged more than $1 billion in additional spending on fish and wildlife projects over the period ending in 2018.
The restoration work, which began well before 2008, has produced results, Bodi told the Council.
“We have the highest dam and in-river survival that we’ve had since before the dams,” she said.
The federal dams have been extensively overhauled to improve passage of juvenile and adult salmon, steelhead and lamprey. About 75 percent to 99 percent of juvenile fish now pass dams through the highest survival routes, avoiding turbines.
Fish travel times have also been significantly improved by surface passage systems that have been installed at the dams, BPA says.
BPA has also protected and restored hundreds of thousands of acres of fish and wildlife habitat throughout the Columbia River basin to offset the impacts of federal dams. Much of that work has been carried out via projects recommended for approval by the NPCC, which has at the direction of the Northwest Power Act developed a scientific program for judging whether proposals enhance the mission of protecting, restoring and enhancing fish and wildlife in the Columbia Basin.
“Studies show this landscape-level habitat work is making a difference,” according to Bonneville.
Image above: The $5 million portable floating fish trap now undergoing experimental tests at Cougar Dam is contributing to efforts to improve the passage of juvenile salmon on their downstream journey to the Pacific ocean.
McKenzie River Reflections