Funding for salmon advances on two fronts - Power council OKs package of BPA projects

Rocky Barker
The Idaho Statesman


A four-state panel recommended the Northwest´s federal power agency balance spending between endangered salmon and other fish and wildlife in the Pacific Northwest.

The Northwest Power Planning Council, which ended three days of meetings Thursday at the Hilton Garden Hotel, approved a trimmed-down, three-year, $34 million package of fish and wildlife improvement projects for the Bonneville Power Administration to carry out.

The panel, which includes two members each from Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, reviews the spending of the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets power from 29 federal dams and a nuclear power plant.

Bonneville is required by the Northwest Power Act of 1980 to fund fish and wildlife programs to offset the impacts of the dams. The dams are the major human cause of the decline of salmon runs over the past 40 years.

Salmon are the physical manifestation of the wild heritage of the Pacific Northwest. The fish provide food and income to fishermen and communities, and spiritual sustenance to the region´s American Indian tribes.

Last year, BPA slashed its annual fish and wildlife budget and raised the rates it charges regional utilities 45 percent due to huge financial losses. Drought, cost overruns, poor accounting practices and the California power crisis have resulted in a deficit of more than $800 million at the agency that sells power to many rural and municipal utilities in Idaho and, to a lesser degree, Idaho Power.

“Things have not gone as we hoped over the last few years,” Paul Norman, BPA senior vice president for power, told the council.

BPA officials asked the council to concentrate BPA spending on projects that are required to aid salmon migration through eight dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers as required under order of the Endangered Species Act. But the council spread its limited budget more broadly, in keeping with its requirements under existing law: to programs ranging from the Nez Perce hatchery, screens on irrigation diversions near Salmon and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes´ fisheries program.

“You don´t want to force a conflict between the Endangered Species Act and the 1980 Northwest Power Act,” said Jim Kempton, a council member from Idaho.

The council cut in half a popular program that pays anglers a bounty on northern pikeminnow, a fish that eats migrating juvenile salmon and steelhead. It also recommended not funding tribal law enforcement programs and fisheries monitoring on the Columbia.

“The decision on this package of projects was very difficult for us, but we did the best we could with the budget we were given,” council Chairwoman Judi Danielson of Idaho said.

“For each project, we asked whether the work is a Bonneville ratepayer responsibility or could be funded by others,” she said. “Given the current financial crisis at Bonneville, we recommended a package of projects that produce biological benefits and improve scientific knowledge at the lowest possible cost.”

The region´s American Indian tribes have demanded BPA increase overall salmon-restoration funding to $290 million, the amount federal wildlife agencies and scientists said is necessary to fully fund the salmon recovery program. Utilities also have urged the agency to hold the line on rate increases.

A week ago, BPA Administrator Steve Wright suggested in a Senate hearing that the power council contributed to its financial problems by promising more projects than BPA could fund — “expectations were created,” he said. In fact, BPA had changed its accounting in a way that did not reflect the actual costs of the programs.

The governors of the four states recommended BPA conduct an internal review. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, also is conducting a review of BPA fish and wildlife funding and its overall budget.

Kempton said Wright´s comments had caused “a certain amount of agitation,” among council members and staff.

“We think the comments were out of context with the facts,” Kempton said.

To offer story ideas or comments, contact Rocky Barker or 377-6484


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