The Bonneville Power
Administration this week announced draft agreements with four
Columbia River basin tribes, and the states of Idaho and
Montana, that would guarantee $980.5 million in funding for
fish and wildlife projects over the next 10 years in exchange
for support of the federal hydro system salmon recovery
Two tribal agreements would assure about $900
million for fish and wildlife projects -- with about 60
percent of the total for "new" work or existing project
expansion and the balance to continue existing projects for
the next 10 years. The Idaho agreement earmarks $65 million
for new and expanded work. A Montana agreement guarantees
The agreements would quiet for now tribal arguments for the
breaching of four lower Snake River dams and other dam
operational changes. Spokespeople for the tribes said Monday
that the federal plan is sound, and becomes even stronger with
addition of dozens of new habitat and hatchery projects via
The agreements were reached through "two years of very hard
work," said Fidelia Andy, chair of the Fish and Wildlife
Committee of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council and chairwoman
of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
"This is the best thing to happen to Columbia River salmon
in a long, long time," she said. "The benefits to salmon are
Other tribal members said the agreement goes beyond helping
salmon by providing funding for projects to help other fishes
that are sacred to the tribes, such as sturgeon and lamprey.
Fishing and conservation groups immediately criticized the
agreements, saying the tribes have backed off of long-held
opinions on dam breaching, and the manipulation of river flows
and provision of spill for migrating salmon and steelhead.
"The tribes are going to have a difficult time justifying
the biological basis" for supporting the new federal salmon
protection plan, said Bill Shake, representing the Northwest
Sportfishing Industry Association. He and Earthjustice
attorney Todd True said that as recently as January three of
the tribes had been sharply critical of spill and flow
provisions outlined in NOAA Fisheries' draft biological
opinion on the Federal Columbia River Power System. A final
FCRPS BiOp is due May 5.
Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission comments on the
draft BiOp said: "The draft FCRPS BiOp, while offering some
new initiatives in the hydro arena, continues the past pattern
of heavy reliance on offsite actions in lieu of major changes
in hydro operations.
"With respect to the hydro system, the draft BiOp is a step
backwards from current system operations specified under the
2000 and 2004 BiOps and the court for flow and spill,"
according to CRITFC's comments. CRITFC's membership includes
the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes.
CRITFC and the Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes
signed on to one of the agreements with BPA and the federal
agencies that run the dams, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
and Bureau of Reclamation. The Nez Perce Tribe did not. A
separate agreement was signed with the Confederated Tribes of
the Colville Indian Reservation.
Andy chaffed at the notion that the tribes would not do
what they felt was best for fish.
"That is an insult," she said. Salmon and steelhead, and
lamprey and sturgeon, "are sacred to us."
"I don't think they've read it. If they have, I don't think
they understand it," Yakama Nation attorney Tim Weaver said of
critics of the agreement.
Warm Springs attorney John Ogan said the agreements "go
beyond what we expect to see in the final biological opinion."
They represent "200 projects with direct action plans" to
address needs of salmon and steelhead listed under the
Endangered Species Act, as well as other fish species.
"We don't have any apologies for it," Ogan said of the
"Nobody cares more about the fish than the tribes," BPA CEO
Steve Wright said Tuesday.
BPA is seeking public comment through April 23 on the
proposals to enter into the agreements as negotiated, as well
as on any associated environmental effects.
Comments will be accepted until close of business April 23,
2008. Comments may be submitted online at http://www.bpa.gov/comment/
, via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Other ways to comment are
described in the letter to the region announcing public
The Nez Perce Tribe is continuing to engage in discussions
with the federal agencies, according to a statement released
by the tribe.
It pointed out that the tribe's 1855 treaty with the
federal government which expressly reserved the right to take
fish at all its usual and accustomed places, most of which are
above eight federal dams on the mainstem Columbia and lower
"The dams on the lower Snake River and mainstem Columbia
have a significant impact on the fish and on the Nez Perce
Tribe," said Samuel N. Penney, tribal chairman. "The Nez Perce
Tribe is continuing to have discussions with the federal
government to see if our concerns can be resolved."
The tribes have long been actively involved in all aspects
of salmon restoration in all forums.
The Columbia River Basin agreements build on biological
opinions for listed salmon and steelhead and the Northwest
Power and Conservation Council's fish and wildlife program,
according to a Tuesday press release from the agencies and
tribes. They provide common goals and priorities for hydro
system mitigation; additional hydro, habitat and hatchery
actions; greater clarity about biological benefits and secure
funding for 10 years.
As NOAA Fisheries prepares to issue its biological opinions
for the FCRPS and Bureau projects in the Upper Snake, the
agreements "underscore that the new salmon plan is being
developed with the highest-ever level of stakeholder
collaboration and support," the press release says.
"These agreements should provide greater certainty for
Columbia River Basin fish recovery activities and for
Northwest ratepayers," Wright said. "The Columbia River has
provided innumerable benefits to all of us here in the
Northwest, and these agreements are about giving back to the
river and helping to meet our tribal treaty and trust
responsibilities by providing even more support for the fish
species of our region."
"We have spent decades arguing with each other. Today these
parties are saying let's lay down the swords, let's spend more
time working collaboratively to implement measures that help
fish and less time litigating," Wright said. "I give Judge
Redden credit for leading us down the path of collaboration."
The agreements are intended to shore up the new BiOps. U.S.
District Court Judge James A. Redden struck down the 2000
FCRPS BiOp, in part because some of the planned salmon
restoration actions lacked certainty of implementation.
Wright said he felt the agreements "increase the
probability of success in the courtroom." The BiOp now in the
works will replace the 2004 version (which replaced the 2000
Redden declared the 2004 BiOp illegal, based on what he
called flawed biological analysis, and ordered that it be
rewritten in remand and in collaboration with states and
tribes. NOAA's 2005 BiOp for the Bureau projects was also
struck down for analytical flaws.
"The Yakama Nation views execution of this memorandum of
agreement as a tremendous opportunity for the Yakama Nation
and other tribes to put their significant expertise to work in
promoting recovery of listed species, significantly enhancing
habitat for naturally spawning fish and in greatly increasing
salmon abundance for tribal and non-tribal users alike," said
Chairman Ralph Sampson, Jr., Confederated Tribes and Bands of
the Yakama Nation. "Yakama truly believes that such a
cooperative effort will provide benefits far beyond those
available through the continuation of litigation, in which the
Yakama Nation has been highly successful, but which has
resulted in few if any true benefits to the resource."
The tribes and federal agencies have been at war for years
in court over provisions of NOAA BiOps, and funding of fish
and wildlife projects to mitigate for the effects from
construction and operation of the Columbia/Snake federal hydro
system. The CRITFC member tribes have often expressed their
desire to have the lower Snake dams breached.
The agreement "specifies that the tribes agree and
understand that the dams will not be breached during this
(10-year) period," Ogan said. Breaching the dams would require
congressional authorization, but the concept has not gained
any footing in Washington, D.C.
The agreement does not mean that the tribes have changed
there mind about the value of breaching the dams to restore
riverine habitat for listed Snake River stocks, he said. If
the current set of restoration actions does not produce
adequate results by 2015, "the tribes are free to advocate for
breaching," he said.
The state of Idaho likewise looks forward to the new
"We celebrate this historic event and look forward to the
next 10 years of stable funding," Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter
said. "We spend too much time and money in the courts and not
enough time out on the ground improving fish habitat. This is
a great day for Idaho's fish and wildlife."
New projects will be scientifically reviewed by the
Independent Scientific Review Panel as mandated by the Pacific
Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act of
1980. Much of the agreements' work will be channeled through
the NPCC's fish and wildlife program, which BPA funds. BPA
markets power generated in the basin's federal hydro system.
"We have a lot of implementation details to work out," said
Greg Delwiche, BPA vice president for Environment, Fish and
Wildlife. "We'll have a dialogue with the Council next week."
The federal agency has committed $143 million for fish and
wildlife expense and $36 million for capital projects annually
during fiscal years 2007-2007 under the Council program. The
funding for new and expanded work in the tribal and Idaho and
Montana agreements will come on top of that. The impact on
power rates that BPA charges to recover its costs will be
figured out during the course of a "supplemental rate case"
now in progress for 2009 and future rate cases.
The $65 million in added expense from the Idaho agreement
is for new projects, boosting the total investment commitment
from BPA to $965 million, or about $605 million in funding for
new projects and about $360 for project continuation,
Bonneville spokesman Scott Simms said Thursday. The additional
costs could push up power rates by 2-4 percent, according to
the federal agency.
The Montana settlement announced Friday would push the
total a little higher. The money is ticketed for habitat
acquisitions, primarily to benefit bull trout and other
resident fish, according to Bruce Measure, a Montana NPCC
"The acquisitions should move forward fairly soon," Measure
said. Like the other parties to the agreement, the state
agrees to support the new BiOps. The agreement also stipulates
that the so-called "Montana operation" will be included in the
FCRPS BiOp. The operation, a prolonged, more gradual and less
severe drawdown of Libby and Hungry Horse reservoirs in
northwest Montana was called for in 2003 NPCC mainstem
amendments but has yet to be implemented.
"I think it's a good outcome for Montana," Measure said of
the agreement, which guarantees long-sought funding for
And more agreements could emerge.
"We've had talks with other entities," Delwiche said. The
agreements announced this week had some urgency given the
impending completion of the federal BiOps, which judge whether
the FCRPS and Upper Snake projects jeopardize the survival of
listed salmon and steelhead. None of the work by tribes, the
state or others now funded by BPA in Montana, for example, are
focused on listed salmon or steelhead stocks.
Upper Columbia and Snake river tribes could come into the
picture. They states of Oregon and Washington may not. Talks
with both have foundered.
"We had one brief discussion with the federal agencies on
an MOA several months ago," said Pearse Edwards,
communications director for Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire.
"Our objective is to get a biologically and legally defensible
BiOp, and get the federal government to agree to that. We
believe this objective best serves Washington, the region and
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, whose state is often at odds
with Bonneville in the courtroom over fish and wildlife
issues, was critical of the announced agreements.
"I'm concerned because I firmly believe this agreement
doesn't go far enough and isn't aggressive enough to restore
our salmon runs," Kulonogski said. "It fails to address
Oregon's concerns about operation of the hydro system,
especially the issues of spill and flow which are critical to
strong salmon recovery."
The Idaho projects are planned for the Lower Clearwater
River/Potlatch River Watershed, Pahsimeroi River and the Lemhi
River regions. In particular, restoration of Idaho sockeye
salmon runs will benefit from funding to develop and expand a
new hatchery that will allow for increased smolt production.
The agreement also provides for habitat acquisition and
restoration to increase and protect vital spawning habitat for
Idaho's threatened and endangered fish runs. In addition, it
provides funding to purchase water in priority areas --
returning water to streams that dry up during important
spawning months -- and for a "nutrient enhancement feasibility
study" for the improvement of stream productivity and
vegetation in streamside areas.
The Idaho agreement calls for more than $13 million in
capital expenditure during fiscal years 2008-2009 to upgrade
and expand the sockeye facilities. An additional $7 million
would be spent over the next 10-years for development planning
and sockeye operations and maintenance.
Another $12 million is guaranteed for Upper Lemhi River
acquisition and habitat restoration.
The Colville agreement offers more than $158 million for
nine projects' expense over the 10-year period. There is $46
million ticketed for capital projects, including $41 million
for a new Chief Joseph Hatchery.
Tribal signers of the agreements and federal officials all
hailed what they called an end to aggravation and litigation,
and the start of an unprecedented partnership.
"This agreement starts to change what we see as a
discrepancy in where the resources have gone" in the past,
said Colville attorney John Arum. Upper Columbia spring
chinook salmon and steelhead face the greatest risk of
extinction of the13 listed Columbia and Snake stocks, with the
exception of the Snake River sockeye. Yet the two Upper
Columbia stocks have not received their share of the
restoration efforts and funding, he said.
The extra funding will help meet the "habitat and
propagation needs of these listed fish," Arum said. "We expect
that the region can begin moving these fish from the brink of
The agreement with the Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama
tribes calls for $51.6 million in project expense annually and
$132.2 million capital expenditures over the 10 years.
The agreement states that the tribes "will not initiate,
join in, or support in any manner" lawsuits "regarding the
legal sufficiency" of the BiOps and implementing Record of
Decisions. The tribes also agree not to participate in any
lawsuits regarding the operations of the dams that are
"specifically addressed" in the BiOps. The tribes, too, agree
"not to request additional fish or wildlife funding from BPA
in on-going and future BPA rate making/approval/review
proceedings during the term of this Agreement."
For more information on the public process, please visit
For specific details of the MOAs and the types of projects
involved, please visit: