U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   06/24/2003
 
J. William McDonald
Regional Director
Bureau of Reclamation
Pacific Northwest Regional Office

Implementation of the National Marine Fisheries Service's 2000 Biological Opinion for listed anadromous fish regarding operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System.

My name is J. William McDonald, Regional Director of the Pacific Northwest Region of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. I am pleased to provide this progress report on Reclamation’s implementation of actions to benefit Columbia and Snake River salmon and steelhead listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Reclamation is responsible for the Grand Coulee and Hungry Horse Dams and Powerplants, which are two of the 14 projects which constitute the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS). We work closely with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration in the operation of the FCRPS and in addressing the ESA issues with which the FCRPS is confronted.

Reclamation has or shares responsibility for implementing over 60 of the 199 actions in the Reasonable and Prudent Alternative (RPA) in the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NOAA Fisheries’) December 2000 Biological Opinion (FCRPS BiOp). This BiOp covers the continued operation and maintenance of the FCRPS and of Reclamation’s Columbia Basin Project, and the aggregate hydrologic effects on mainstem flows of the 19 Reclamation irrigation projects located in the Columbia River Basin (exclusive of the Snake River Basin above Hells Canyon).

Reclamation is generally on track in implementing those actions in the RPA which are our responsibility.

Our hydro-electric generation efforts under the FCRPS BiOp include the operation of Grand Coulee and Hungry Horse Dams in a manner that assists in meeting certain flow targets and the annual acquisition of up to 427,000 acre feet of water in the Snake River Basin from willing participants to improve spring and summer streamflow conditions for juvenile fish migration.

Reclamation is on schedule on the implementation of its the habitat restoration programprovisions of the RPA. As required by action 149 of the RPA, we have initiated programs in nine subbasins to assist with providing migration passage and screening on non-federal water diversion structures, and securing water and water rights from willing sellers and lessors for instream flows in accordance with state law. While Reclamation has the authority to plan and design fish screens and passage for non-federal water projects, we do not have the authority to fund construction. Thus, Reclamation’s ability to fully accomplish this work will be hampered if we do notunless we receive the statutory authority to construct, or provide financial assistance to others to construct, fish passage and screening on non-federally owned diversion structures beginning with fiscal year 2004.

In this regard, the Administration, in an October 30, 2002 letter from the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, proposed legislation to the Congress which, if enacted, would give Reclamation the authority it needs to carry out activities in this BiOp. We continue to work with Congressional staff on that proposal. [current status] In the meantime, others, including BPA and state agencies in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, are providing some funding for the construction of these improvements at non-federal water diversion projects.

Following the May 7, 2003, decision of the U.S. District Court for Oregon in National Wildlife Federation v. National Marine Fisheries Service, many have asked if this proposed legislation is still needed. I would like to emphasize the importance of and need forof this legislation. Among other things, the court found that certain BiOp actions were not reasonably certain to occur. Reclamation’s proposed legislative lack of authority to providesion of financial assistance to private parties for the construction of fish passage and screening is one area where Reclamation is committed to that contributes to the lack of certainty in the implementation of certain actions for which the BiOp’s RPA calls. Thus, I would reiterate the need for this funding authority.

We are also implementing research, monitoring, and evaluation (RM&E) activities, primarily in priority subbasins. This is important for determining the effectiveness of our actions and the status of the listed fish.

Reclamation has received sufficient appropriations to date to fund actions required in the FCRPS BiOp. Our appropriation for the Columbia/Snake Salmon Recovery Program has risen from $5.6 million in FY2001 to $15 million in FY2003. The President’s proposed level of funding is $19 million for FY2004. Most of this increase is needed to fund our off-site habitat improvements (i.e., passage and screening on non-federal water projects) in the tributary subbasins, and assumes enactment of legislation to provide the necessary authority. We appreciate your continued support of these efforts.

In conclusion, we are pleased with our progress to date in implementing the actions in the FCRPS BiOp for which we are responsible. At the same time, we are mindful of the importance and magnitude of the task which lies before us.