Water Resources:

Corps of Engineers' Actions to Assist Salmon in the Columbia River Basin

RCED-98-100: Published: Apr 27, 1998. Publicly Released: Apr 27, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the: (1) Army Corps of Engineers' decisionmaking process for identifying, setting priorities for, and funding actions to help the recovery of salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin; and (2) difficulties in implementing these actions.

GAO noted that: (1) since 1995, the Corps' efforts to mitigate the decline of salmon stocks on the lower Columbia and Snake rivers have been guided by the National Marine Fisheries Service's 1995 Biological Opinion; (2) many of the monitoring, evaluation, research, design, and construction projects identified in the Biological Opinion are included in the Corps' Columbia River Fish Mitigation program; (3) the Corps' decisionmaking process for selecting, setting priorities for, and funding specific projects and studies in its fish mitigation program is a cooperative effort between the Corps and regional interests and is known as the Regional Forum process; (4) the Regional Forum is a group with a broad regional representation, including federal agencies, states, and Native American Tribes located in the Columbia River Basin; (5) the Forum, which includes the Corps, tries to reach consensus among its members in making decisions about fish mitigation actions; (6) if consensus cannot be reached, the Corps is the decisionmaker on actions that affect its eight dams; (7) annually, the Corps, with input from the Regional Forum, estimates the costs of its fish mitigation actions and requests funding as a part of its normal budget process; (8) if Congress appropriates less funding than the Corps requests, the Corps seeks recommendations from the Regional Forum to help it decide on which actions should be funded; (9) the majority of Corps fish mitigation actions are being completed on time and within budget; however the Corps identified 19 actions that were delayed, experienced cost increases, or both; (10) in at least four projects and three studies, delays and cost increases were the result of decisions by the Regional Forum that changed fish mitigation priorities; (11) these changes were often necessitated by such factors as limited funding, the need for additional biological data, or the desire to test new technology; (12) in three projects, difficulties, including problems with engineering designs, were the result of the Corps' bypassing standard procedures for managing the project in an effort to implement required actions in the timeframes established by the Biological Opinion; (13) the problems the Corps has experienced in implementing its fish mitigation actions have had significant impacts; and (14) there are ongoing concerns about the overall effectiveness of the Regional Forum because, among other things, its members do not agree on how to pursue salmon recovery efforts.

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