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200201301 - Water Entity (RPA 151) NWPCC

Sponsor: National Fish & Wildlife Foundation

Budgets: FY07: $5,000,000 | FY08: $5,000,000 | FY09: $5,000,000

Short description: Fund water right transactions that restore streamflows and focused riparian easements on critical fish-bearing Columbia Basin tributaries. Implemented as the Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program (CBWTP) in a partnership between BPA and NFWF.

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Final Council recommendation (Nov 2006)

Funding category: Expense

Recommended budgets: FY07: $5,000,000 | FY08: $5,000,000 | FY09: $5,000,000

Comment: Sponsor should work to reduce overhead costs.

ISRP final recommendation: Fundable (Qualified)


This project will likely result in long-term benefits to focal species. Water withdrawals have been identified as one of the primary sources of habitat loss in the Columbia River Basin, and this project attempts to address the problem directly. Before this review, the ISRP had not reviewed the results of the Water Transactions Program, but had favorably reviewed NFWF's transaction/project selection criteria. In the ISRP's review of the criteria and in the Retrospective Report, the ISRP recommended a review of the transaction program's results. The FY07 review process allowed us to consider some of the questions below: 1. How has CBWTP investments increased the capacity of Qualified Local Entities (QLEs) to engage in water transactions? 2. How have the investments in water transactions affected the quantity of flow and amount and quality of habitat for salmonids? 3. How have the investments in water transactions changed the responses of salmonids? 4. How well has CBWPT offered an effective means for coordinating federal, state and local organizational efforts for increasing instream flows? 5. How have federal partners changed in meeting specific federal mandates for protecting key species of salmonids? 6. How has CBWPT programmatic activities affected the agricultural uses in achieving targeted water flows? The proposal did a reasonable job of defining the problem and describing the project's history, but the background section did not go into much detail about how the water transaction program's efforts to increase instream flows will actually result in improved survival and productivity. Some references to the beneficial effects of increasing flows on spawning, juvenile rearing, and migration (both smolt and adult) phases of the life cycle would have been helpful in setting the stage. The ISRP is not requesting a response, but the proposal and continuing project would be improved by addressing the following comments: The detailed project history section of the proposal begins with a statement of the underlying assumption that water transactions provide a mechanism to increase tributary flows for the benefit of fish and wildlife. A transaction is a voluntary agreement in which water that has previously been diverted is left or released to instream flows. The process by which proposed transactions are reviewed is described. An extensive and very thorough discussion describes the history of the program. For each year from FY 2003 to present, the number of transactions, tools used, and particular issues are described for the overall program and for the individual states. The proposal includes a good interpretive discussion, with interesting and innovative transactions highlighted. However, while the proposal goes into a lot of detail about the agreements that have been reached, it does not always show how much streamflows increased as the result of these agreements. The project history section describes the efforts to establish a flow and biological monitoring program for instream transactions, and summarizes the monitoring work done by eight QLEs. These efforts may help address the ISRP’s comments about the biological benefits of this project. The proposal would also have benefited from including a brief section describing the problem of low tributary flows in the Columbia Basin, recent changes in water law that re-define instream flow as a beneficial use, the existence of programmatic mechanisms to change the purpose of use of existing water rights, and the identification of inadequate stream flow as a key limiting factor for fish in a number of subbasin plans. It would help to know more about prioritization of projects. The ISRP previously reviewed criteria for review of water acquisition projects. How do QLEs prioritize their submissions for review? The sponsors should provide information about the priorities and review criteria for riparian easement proposals, so QLEs will be fully informed. The project sponsors also leave monitoring to the QLEs. In many cases QLEs do not possess flow gages or the telemetry equipment to send data to a remote server, so real changes resulting from water transactions may be undocumented. This proposal contains an element that would facilitate the installation of stream gages, which is needed. A primary concern is that the scale of the projects still seems fairly modest in relation to the overall problem. For example, the following statement identifies numerical goals for part of the Columbia Cascade province: "The updated proposed action for the Biological Opinion seeks to secure 12 cfs of flow through water transactions by the end of the 2007 fiscal year and a total 40 cfs by the end of the 2010 fiscal year. For riparian protection, the target is four miles by the end of 2007 and a total of 12 miles by end of 2010. These targets are applicable to the Entiat, Methow, and Wenatchee subbasins, with implementation of conservation measures also focused in the Okanogan subbasin." The targets seem low in relations to the total flow in these subbasins or the total miles of riparian zones. One additional comment relates to the history of water right acquisition since the project’s inception. The graph in the proposal showing water protection over time declines sharply for the first three years of the project and then levels out. Does this mean that new agreements will be increasingly difficult to come by, resulting in diminishing returns per dollar invested in the program? What strategies will be adopted to ensure that new water protection agreements can be sustained over the life of the project? Are some projects in the queue waiting to be finalized? Also to note, in FY 2005, the CBWTP worked with BPA to establish the Columbia Basin Riparian Conservation Easement Program. It set up Land Qualified Local Entities (LQLEs) to propose easement projects. A technical advisory committee was established to review the projects. Two have been funded and are described.

State/province recommendation: MS: Core Program

Review group: MSRT

Recommended budgets: FY07: $3,500,000 | FY08: $3,500,000 | FY09: $3,500,000

Comment: Called for in 2004 FCRPS Biological Opinion and UPA. The project has recently been expanded to include land rights acquisition. All acquisitions are certified for their biological benefit. Could this project be modified to provide reporting of all water and land rights acquisition for the Program? Does BPA track and report such acquisitions?