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Posted on Friday, November 19, 2004 (PST)

Attempts to keep the Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Program within a $139 million annual average for the 2003-2006 period are, for now, right on track, according to Bonneville Power Administration officials.


Total program "expense" for fiscal year 2004 is at slightly more than $131.6 million. When combined with fiscal year 2003's $141.6 million expense total, the average for the two-year period is $136.1 million. That effectively makes available above-average spending -- $141.3 million -- in each of the next two years.


"Which is good news as we're expecting the BiOp to have an effect on our budget," BPA's Scott Hampton told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council Wednesday. The NPCC administers the fish and program and makes spending recommendations to Bonneville. The federal power marketing agency funds the program as mitigation for effects on fish and wildlife stemming from construction and operation of the federal Columbia River hydrosystem.


BPA has told the Council that $139 million will be available annually on average in expense and up to $36 million can be spent each year on capital projects during the year. Capital expenditures during 2004 were $7.3 million.


BPA, as a federal action agency, is also responsible for assuring that the hydrosystem operations don't jeopardize the survival of salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act. A 2000 biological opinion issued by NOAA as ESA coverage for hydro operations was declared invalid last year by U.S. District Court Judge James A. Redden. A new version -- expected to be submitted later this month to the judge -- may include additional mitigation measures that would have to be funded through the program.


The actual annual program spending -- the accruals -- in both of the past two years has been below the level of spending recommended by the Council. Washington Councilor Larry Cassidy asked for an accounting of that differential.


"We need to know what happened -- what programs didn't get implemented," Cassidy said. The Council recommendations for 2004 totaled $151.3 million, according to Hampton.


At least $4 million of the total differential, and perhaps much more, is for work that could be "rescheduled" from 2004 to 2005. When BPA two years ago switched to an accrual method of accounting, it allowed for some rescheduling of uncompleted work from one year to the next. The new fiscal year began Oct. 1 and already $4 million worth of rescheduling has been requested.


Hampton said the agency is doing an analysis of the 20 or so largest projects that underspent their budgets last year.


Under the accrual method of accounting, the actual payout for the year is totaled, regardless of when the obligation (contract) was made. The Council's start-of-year program budget recommended $146 million for fiscal 2005.




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