April 18, 2008 - Bend Bulletin $13 Million Settlement Could Help Deschutes Basin Fish

April 22, 2008
April 18, 2008 - Bend Bulletin $13 Million Settlement Could Help Deschutes Basin Fish

$13 million settlement could help Deschutes basin fish
By Keith Chu / The Bulletin
Published: April 18, 2008

WASHINGTON — Nearly $13 million could flow into the Deschutes River Basin to aid fish under a recent $900 million agreement between the Bonneville Power Administration and four Indian tribes.

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs would receive about $100 million over 10 years for dropping lawsuits against the BPA, which operates 31 hydroelectric projects in the Columbia River Basin.

The deal still needs to be approved by a federal judge before it can become final. That decision is expected early next month. But officials for the tribes and the BPA said it will provide stability for power customers, and recovery efforts for endangered salmon and steelhead, as well as a handful of non-endangered fish species.

“That would definitely help our program out if we get that nailed down and can do some good fish work,” said Bobby Brunoe, natural resources manager for the tribes. “The strongholds for the wild spring fish in the state of Oregon are the Deschutes and also the John Day basin, so it’s critical to maintain those populations.”

Federal management of the Columbia River system has been challenged in court for years, both by Indian tribes and environmental groups. As a result of that litigation, twice this decade a federal judge has rejected the federal plan for managing hydro dams along with endangered salmon and steelhead.

Under the deal reached last week, the tribes agreed to drop their legal challenges for the next decade.

The Warm Springs tribes would receive about $8 million each year for fish recovery programs, such as habitat improvements. They would also receive about $5.5 million to expand a fish hatchery in Hood River and $7 million for construction and land purchases, according to attorney John Ogan and Brad Houslet, fisheries department manager for the tribes.

Most of the federal funding would go to the Lower Deschutes River, below the Pelton-Round Butte Dam complex. But Central Oregon could see several million for habitat improvements as a result of the deal.

Central Oregon would see $150,710 per year for 10 years, to pay for reintroducing sockeye salmon on the Metolius River, according to the agreement. That money would augment an existing effort by the tribes and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, according to state and tribal officials.

A pool of $3.2 million is also available for habitat improvements throughout the Deschutes basin, including Central Oregon streams like Whychus Creek, Ogan said.

The tribes plan to spend some of that money improving habitat on Beaver Creek and Shitike Creek, which flow through the Warm Springs reservation and host spring chinook and steelhead salmon, Brunoe said.

Historically, the BPA has resisted spending funds on streams impacted by non-federal hydro projects, such as Pelton-Round Butte, which is owned by PGE and the Warm Springs tribes, said Scott McCaulou, project manager for the Deschutes River Conservancy.

But last week’s agreement gives the tribes more flexibility to spend that money anywhere in the Deschutes basin, Ogan said.

Since it was announced last week, the deal has drawn fire from environmental groups, who say it would not do enough to improve conditions for endangered fish — specifically, that it abandons the idea of breaching four dams on the Snake River.

“This new deal would roll back recent victories improving dam operations for salmon,” said Todd True, attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, in a prepared statement. “The opportunity to restore these fish is rapidly slipping away.”

Ogan said this deal gives immediate help to all 13 species of endangered fish in the Columbia basin. Only four of those species spawn above the Snake River dams, he said.

“Breaking (dams) does nothing for the fish that live in the Deschutes,” Ogan said. “This agreement addresses problems for salmon and steelhead wherever they are across the Columbia basin.”

To pay for the proposal, the BPA expects the agreement to increase power rates by 2 percent to 4 percent, said spokesman Scott Simms.

The BPA is taking public comments on the agreement on it is Web site, www.bpa.gov, until April 23.

Keith Chu can be reached at 202-662-7456 or at kchu@bendbulletin.com.

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