Federal and state agencies Monday signed an agreement to implement immediate and long-term actions to maintain and configure 14 federal dams along the lower Columbia and Snake rivers.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration signed a joint Record of Decision on Monday committing their agencies to the effort.
The plan will “support continued, reliable water resource benefits and balance the purposes of the federal dams while specifically supporting ongoing and new improvements for species listed under the Endangered Species Act.”
The plan drew immediate criticism from some environmentalists.
“One week after the Pacific Northwest celebrated the birth of two orca calves, federal agencies finalized... the new dam management plan for four federal dams in the lower Snake River,” said Kerry Skiff of the Defenders of Wildlife. “But this plan will do little to save endangered orcas and salmon.”
The agreement provides the agencies’ reasoning for selecting the preferred alternative published in the Columbia River System Operations final environmental impact statement.
“This alternative provides the best balanced and flexible approach to meeting the needs of the human and natural environment in the basin, both now and into the future. Our decision benefits the public interest, treaty resources and iconic fish species of the Pacific Northwest,” concluded Brig. Gen. D. Peter Helmlinger, commander of the Corps of Engineers’ Northwestern Division.
“Federal agencies chose a ‘flexible spill’ arrangement as the preferred management alternative for the four dams in the lower Snake River. While spill is projected to aid the survival of juvenile salmon navigating from their natal headwaters to the ocean, it does not address other challenges posed by the dams,” Skiff said
Reclamation Regional Director Lorri Gray disagreed. “The selected alternative meets the purpose and need of the action and a majority of the EIS objectives, balancing the co-lead agencies’ abilities to meet statutory project obligations while also complying with the requirements of the ESA, Clean Water Act and other applicable laws.”
Key to the EIS process was the identification of mitigation actions to offset adverse impacts of the measures in the selected alternative and operation of the Columbia River System consistent with its congressionally authorized purposes. For example, BPA will fund additional protection and mitigation actions and will include those actions in its existing Fish and Wildlife Program.
“This process reflects our commitment to understanding all of the needs and interests related to the Columbia River Basin,” said acting BPA Administrator John Hairston. “We believe our decision today carefully balances the region’s needs for clean, reliable energy, supports the economic vitality of the communities that depend on the rivers, and includes durable actions that offset impacts on fish and wildlife affected by the Columbia River System.”
The co-lead agencies now are planning for implementation to ensure continued coordinated management of the system in a manner consistent with the selected alternative. The co-lead agencies will use the information garnered through the EIS development process to guide future decisions.
Congress authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation to construct, operate and maintain the 14 federal dams as one interconnected system to meet multiple specified purposes, including flood risk management, navigation, hydropower generation, irrigation, fish and wildlife conservation, recreation and municipal and industrial water supply. BPA is authorized to market and transmit the power generated by coordinated system operations.
Built and put into service between 1938 and 1976, the Columbia River System provides flood risk management to reduce the risk to lives, property and infrastructure during flood events.
The river’s navigation system is an important component of the regional economy, allowing farmers to export grain and other crops grown in interior parts of the United States to overseas markets. Cruise line operators also use the river for tourism, a growing business on the Columbia and Snake rivers.
The Columbia River and its tributaries provide water for millions of people throughout the river basin. Farmers depend on this water to irrigate crops that contribute to the national economy.