Hydroelectric Dams:

Issues Surrounding Columbia River Basin Juvenile Fish Bypasses

RCED-90-180: Published: Sep 6, 1990. Publicly Released: Oct 12, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the Army Corps of Engineers program for assisting fish migration past certain river dams, focusing on the Corps': (1) use of benefit and cost analysis and a computer model to estimate benefits; (2) consideration of other factors in its benefit estimates; and (3) consideration of the views of outside groups in deciding against constructing the bypasses.

GAO found that: (1) the Corps developed a computer model to estimate the number of additional adult fish that would return from the ocean if it constructed the proposed bypasses; (2) local agencies, tribes, and others noted model limitations, and researchers concluded that data limitations rendered the model inadequate for making precise economic benefit determinations; (3) the Corps acknowledged the model's data shortcomings and reliability problems; (4) the Corps did not recognize the proposed bypasses' potential for increased revenues through different electricity generation methods; (5) regulations did not require the Corps to consider noneconomic factors in constructing the bypasses, and it did not consider such potential benefits as the cultural and religious value of fish to Indian tribes; (6) the Corps did not adequately involve appropriate agencies in conducting planning studies as required; (7) the Corps could experience difficulty in establishing a mitigation objective, since comprehensive data on fish migrations prior to dam construction did not exist; and (8) the Corps' ability to base bypass construction decisions on cost-effectiveness may be limited, since information about bypass effectiveness was scarce and inconclusive.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to the Army, in the future, the Corps will follow the GAO recommendation to consider the value of intangible factors, quantified to the fullest extent practicable, in the decision making process. This recommendation was considered closed by the Army in April 1991.

    Recommendation: If estimates of the benefits of proposed projects for increasing the survival of juvenile fish in the Columbia River Basin are made in the future, the Secretary of the Army should direct the Chief, Corps of Engineers, to consider the value of intangible factors, quantified to the fullest extent practicable, in the decisionmaking process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to the Army, in the future, the Corps will follow the GAO recommendation to consider the status of stock in addition to species of fish. The Army closed this recommendation in April 1991.

    Recommendation: If estimates of the benefits of proposed projects for increasing the survival of juvenile fish in the Columbia River Basin are made in the future, the Secretary of the Army should direct the Chief, Corps of Engineers, to consider the status of stocks in addition to species of fish.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to the Army, in the future, the Corps will follow the GAO recommendation to recognize the impact of avoiding water spilled to assist fish migration. The Army closed this recommendation in April 1991.

    Recommendation: If estimates of the benefits of proposed projects for increasing the survival of juvenile fish in the Columbia River Basin are made in the future, the Secretary of the Army should direct the Chief, Corps of Engineers, to recognize the impact of avoiding water spilled to assist fish migration, if such spill is an existing practice.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to the Army, in the future, the Corps will use validated models. This recommendation was considered closed by the Army in April 1991.

    Recommendation: If estimates of the benefits of proposed projects for increasing the survival of juvenile fish in the Columbia River Basin are made in the future, the Secretary of the Army should direct the Chief, Corps of Engineers, to use validated models that can identify the degree of uncertainty or provide a probability range.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of September 1992, the Corps had studies under way to: (1) identify alternative structural changes, including those identified by NWPPC, such as drawing down reservoirs downstream and building new storage projects upstream; and (2) review system operations. The analysis will extend over a much longer period of time and encompass a broad range of issues. Several events, such as endangered species consultation, ongoing litigation, and overall coordination with the many affected parties, have resulted in delays, but future progress is expected.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Chief, Corps of Engineers, in consultation with the Northwest Power Planning Council (NWPPC), fish and wildlife agencies, Indian tribes, and other interested parties, to: (1) establish a mitigation objective for damage to anadromous fish populations in the Snake and Columbia Rivers; and (2) determine which measures, such as bypass facilities, are necessary to meet this objective. The objective should be in specific terms of how the fish populations will be measured.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to the Army, in the future, the Corps will follow the GAO recommendation to consult with NWPPC, fish and wildlife agencies, Indian tribes, and other interested parties, in carrying out those actions. The recommendation was considered closed by the Army in April 1991.

    Recommendation: If estimates of the benefits of proposed projects for increasing the survival of juvenile fish in the Columbia River Basin are made in the future, the Secretary of the Army should direct the Chief, Corps of Engineers, to consult with NWPPC, fish and wildlife agencies, Indian tribes, and other interested parties in carrying out those actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

 

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