Bull Run salmon protection tab: $95 million
A week and a half ago, I wondered aloud what was going on over at the Portland Water Bureau with all the sudden talk in the press about saving the salmon around the city's Bull Run reservoir system. Already the city's been letting water out of the system to help the little anadromous creatures get around in the streams near their birthplaces, and recent news stories have alluded to unspecified "other measures" that the public was going to find out about over "the next few months."
That worried me. With as important a natural resource as Bull Run water under discussion, what was with the delay in getting the outlines of the plan out to the public? I fretted that the city was up to one of its classic backroom deals.
David Shaff, the administrator of the bureau, wrote in to assure me that my fears were groundless. Talks between the city and federal environmental regulators on the subject have been going on for years, he said, because the city's required to come up with a fish habitat conservation plan under federal law.
Among his comments were these:
Portland is blessed to have the Bull Run watershed under its stewardship. It is a very productive and high quality water source. How much of that water we should release for fish is part science and part negotiation with our regulators. The federal services that enforce the Endangered Species Act would probably like for the city to release more water than it has agreed to provide. However, over the last five years we believe we have identified flow levels that are adequate to provide habitat and spawning conditions for fish without causing conflicts with municipal demand. We now have a five-year track record in which there have been no fish v. human water conflicts on the Bull Run and the federal services have, so far, agreed that these flow release levels are adequate. If the [conservation plan] is adopted and enacted, the city will gain certainty through a contractual relationship that these flow releases will be adequate for the next 50 years.Late last week, I received an e-mail from Shaff that got down a little further toward the real nitty-gritty of the conservation measures. The full draft of the city's conservation plan runs more than 650 pages at the moment, and there's no executive summary ready yet. Meanwhile, federal regulators are drafting an environmental impact statement, which should be finalized around the same time as the city's plan -- in a couple of months.
Shaff did send along an interesting little one-pager (doc file) about how much it's going to cost to save the salmon. The current estimate is around $95 million over 50 years. He points out that that's less than $2 million a year "on average," but the precise timing of the expenditures within that period is not specified, and if most of the costs are incurred up front, that average could be misleading.
About half of the $95 million would be spent in the Bull Run watershed itself -- as Shaff explains it, "flow release commitments, stream temperature management and habitat restoration projects (such as gravel or large woody debris placement) on the lower Bull Run River. For the last couple of years we have been operating the system as if the proposed measures were in place to ensure that we can comply with [a conservation plan] and still meet our human customers' demands. There are times when that is a real balancing act, but we are confident that we can meet the needs of fish and humans." Another 27 percent would go toward "habitat restoration projects planned for other high priority streams in the Sandy River Basin," and the last 23 percent would be spent on "monitoring, research and adaptive management," which Shaff describes as "work the city is required to do to document the effectiveness of its efforts and to make adjustments in its approach if necessary."
Apparently, there will be lots of opportunity for anyone who's interested to see all the details and speak their minds when the draft documents are formally released (and summarized for mere mortals) in September. I might even get my hands on a preview copy of the 650 pages of light reading before then. In the meantime, if you have a faucet in Portland, you may want to keep our aquatic vertebrate friends in mind.