Federal agencies release final Columbia River system operations EIS

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration released the Columbia River System Operations Final Environmental Impact Statement. The issuance of the final EIS is a substantial step toward accomplishment of a priority item of the Presidential Memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West issued in October 2018.

This final EIS documents the detailed analyses of environmental, social and economic benefits and consequences to affected resources of the alternatives considered for improved integrated operations.

The Preferred Alternative documented in the final EIS includes implementation of innovative dam operations that balance fish benefits and energy goals by spilling more water in the spring for juvenile fish passage.

If the Preferred Alternative is selected, measures it contains are anticipated to result in benefits to juvenile and adult Endangered Species Act–listed anadromous and resident fish and Pacific lamprey, while providing reliable flood risk management and flexibility for variability in climate conditions, water supply for irrigation, municipal and industry use, water, and flexibility in hydropower generation, minimizing adverse effects to the human and natural environment.

The final EIS includes the co-lead agencies’ analysis of effects of operation, maintenance and configuration of the Columbia River System, and responds to substantive comments on the draft EIS, which was released in February 2020. In all, the co-agencies hosted six virtual public meetings and received almost 59,000 comment letters on the draft EIS.

The final EIS carries forward the Preferred Alternative identified in the draft EIS with an additional measure added as a result of ESA consultations. Public, agency and tribal comments helped identify areas that needed clarity or correction. New discussions in the document reflect these inputs and public comments and the results of independent external peer review.

The co-lead agencies plan to release a joint Record of Decision in September 2020 documenting which alternative evaluated in the final EIS will be selected for implementation.

The final EIS is the result of more than three years of regional collaboration among the co-lead agencies and more than 30 Tribes, state, federal and county agencies in the National Environmental Policy Act process.

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Joanna Yorke is the managing editor of the Vancouver Business Journal. She has worked in the journalism field since 2010 after graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Yorke worked at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground for six years and then worked at and helped start ClarkCountyToday.com.