Senate Bill Would Help Reclamation Comply with ESA Requirements to Avoid Jeopardy to Pacific Northwest Salmon

Media Contact: Diana Cross , (208) 378-5020

For Release: October 17, 2003

In a hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power on October 15, Reclamation Commissioner John Keys expressed support for legislation that would authorize the Bureau of Reclamation to assist in the implementation of fish passage and screening facilities at non-federal water projects. (Read Commissioner Keys testimony.)

The bill would give Reclamation this authority when Reclamation needed to improve habitat conditions for species listed under the Endangered Species Act so that the operation of Reclamation's own water projects would not jeopardize the continued existence of endangered and threatened salmon species in the Columbia River Basin.

In a Biological Opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (now NOAA Fisheries) in December 2000, it found that the operation and configuration of the hydropower system could not be modified enough to prevent jeopardy to listed salmon and steelhead affected by the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS).

To avoid jeopardy, NOAA Fisheries identified a reasonable and prudent alternative that included numerous actions to improve the survival of those species. Among the actions recommended to Reclamation was a habitat initiative to improve tributary spawning and rearing conditions by working with private parties to screen diversions and to provide fish passage at their non-federal water diversion structures.

Screen and passage projects provide an immediate benefit to the species by reducing fish mortality and providing access to better tributary migration, spawning, and rearing habitat. Reclamation currently has the authority to provide engineering design and environmental compliance assistance to the owners of non-federal water diversion facilities, but lacks the authority to fund the construction of fish screens and passage at such facilities.

"The need for this authority has been highlighted in the ongoing litigation concerning the FCRPS Biological Opinion," observed Keys in his testimony. "In May of this year, the U.S. District Court in Oregon ruled that the 2000 Biological Opinion is flawed because some anticipated future actions by federal agencies are not reasonably certain to occur. Reclamation's lack of authority to fund the construction of needed screen and migration barrier projects on non-federal facilities falls within this category. This deficiency would be eliminated by the passage of S. 1307."

Keys noted in his testimony that owners of the non-federal projects receiving assistance under this legislation would benefit from bringing their facilities into compliance with the ESA, and that it was appropriate to recommend a cost-share requirement of 35 percent, including the value of in-kind services.

The proposed Senate bill would provide Reclamation with the authority to fund screening and passage projects not only for the benefit of the FCRPS, but also for any other Reclamation project located in the Columbia River Basin within the States of Washington and Oregon, if necessary for the Reclamation project to comply with the ESA. Reclamation projects in the Snake River Basin in Idaho and Oregon would not be included under this authority.

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Reclamation is the largest wholesale water supplier and the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States, with operations and facilities in the 17 Western States. Its facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation, and fish and wildlife benefits. Visit our website at and follow us on Twitter @USBR.