Columbia River Salmon Thrive On $500 Million Annual Subsidy

Columbia River Salmon Thrive On $500 Million Annual Subsidy

$250 per fish is spent each year to keep Columbia river golden salmon coming back!

Money lenders financing the work receive 35% of that each year as debt financing charges.

BPA-Logo-colorThe Bonneville Power Administration ( BPA) spends over half a billion every year to bring about 2 million fish back to the Columbia River, God bless them. And this rate of spending is going to continue to rise for what Bonneville Power Administration officials say is likely the country’s largest ecosystem improvement program.

BPA projects their spending is expected to see an immediate rise up to $550 million for fiscal years 2016-2017. This annual spending has grown dramatically from the $330 million spent during the 2007-2009 time frame. “It’s a lot of money, but it’s a lot of progress too,” Lorri Bodi, BPA’s vice president of Environment, Fish and Wildlife, told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in early July.

Salmon Industrial Complex Is Federally Mandated

BPA administers the electrical power generated in the federal Columbia/Snake river hydro system and is required by the Northwest Power Act to mitigate for dam impacts on fish and wildlife. As a federal agency, BPA also has obligations under the Endangered Species Act and under long-held treaties with Columbia Basin tribes to restore fish and wildlife populations.

As a result a richly subsidized industry has been spawned to sustain salmon in the Columbia River. Since the 1970’s upwards of $15 billion has flooded the region creating a salmon industrial complex that has now become so powerful and potent that it has achieved a state of political criticality and near limitless growth.

idaho salmon cost


BPA spending obligations rose dramatically in 2008 with completion of a new federal plan – NOAA Fisheries’ Federal Columbia River System biological opinion planning process. What used to be silver salmon turned into gold.

This new directive aims to  improve the state of Endangered Species Act listed salmon and steelhead survivals by investing heavily in their habitat, improved hatcheries, and hydro system passage technologies.

It Seems Everyone Is Cashing In

With BPA’s average invested money per fish that returns from sea at $250 this baits and supports a thriving industry seeking to perform the work of BPA  in support of the Columbia salmon. In some regions, such as Idaho, which has endangered salmon the money being spent per fish is much higher, as much as $8,000 per fish.

The federal dams have been extensively overhauled to improve passage of juvenile and adult salmon, steelhead and lamprey. About 75 percent to 99 percent of juvenile fish now pass dams through the highest survival routes, avoiding turbines.

Fish travel times have also been significantly improved by surface passage systems that have been installed at the dams, BPA says.


Columbia Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission

In 2008 BPA and federal agencies that operate the dam signed new “Fish Accords” with treaty tribes and states. This resulted in pledges of more than $1 billion in additional spending on fish and wildlife projects over the period ending in 2018. I large share of this is going to tribal organizations.

Restoration work, which began well before 2008, has produced results, Bodi told the Council. “We have the highest dam and in-river survival that we’ve had since before the dams,” she said.

 Salmon Projects Are Everywhere

BPA salmon channel

BPA Salmon Channel Restoration

BPA has also protected and restored hundreds of thousands of acres of fish and wildlife habitat throughout the Columbia River basin to offset the impacts of federal dams. Much of that work has been carried out via projects recommended for approval by the NPCC.

The Northwest Power Act has developed a scientific program for judging whether proposals enhance the mission of protecting, restoring and enhancing fish and wildlife in the Columbia Basin.

“Studies show this landscape-level habitat work is making a difference,” according to Bonneville. Substantial funding is channeled through non-profit public groups which are required to bring significant “matching funds” to the projects they support. This greatly leverages both BPA’s project and political capital.

The BPA funding has:

  • Reopened or improved access to about 2500 miles of river and stream habitat, which is more than twice the length of the entire Columbia River;
  • Restored more than 254,125 acre-feet of water to rivers and streams, some of which formerly ran dry when fish needed them most — enough water to meet the annual needs of a city the size of Seattle.
  • BPA also provides funding to states and tribes to reintroduce salmon to areas where they had disappeared, including spring chinook in the Umatilla, Okanogan and Walla Walla subbasins, coho in the Umatilla and middle and upper Columbia and sockeye in the Snake River system.

That $500 million spending total includes estimates of $254 million in FY 2014 and $260 million in FY2015 for the “integrated program,” which is largely implemented through the NPCC. It aims to meet both BPA’s Northwest Power Act and ESA obligations.

Another large share is used for “fish related” operations and maintenance and other non-capital activities carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation (Operation and management of fish facilities at the federal dams and Corps/Reclamation mitigation hatcheries), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (for hatcheries under the Lower Snake River Compensation Plan – 11 hatcheries and 18 satellite facilities). The hydroelectric “share” of such expenses is typically about 80 percent.

Project Financiers Make A Sweet Bank

gold bars

Nice If You Can Get It

These annual budgets of $500 million include debt servicing of $175 million per year.

Wow, how might I put my retirement money into that sort of government guaranteed 35% annual return on investment program.

The $500+ million total does not include so-called foregone revenue, which is a calculation of how much power generating value is lost because of actual hydro operations, such as spill, aimed at improving fish survival.

Actual fish and wildlife spending in FY2015, not including debt service, is expected to total $343.5 million. That includes about $102 million for Accord projects, $98 million for non-Accord projects that are BiOp related, $42 million for integrated program projects that are neither accord nor BiOp related, $32.7 million for LSRCP hatcheries and $18 million for overhead. That $343.5 million total also includes $51.8 million in capital expenditures.

BPA is a self-financed federal agency. The agency pays its expenses from revenues it receives from the sale of power and transmission services to eligible customers. BPA establishes rates to be charged for power and transmission services in a rate proceeding, a formal evidentiary hearing process.

A Proven And Cost Effective Means To Dramatically Improve Salmon Numbers

Historic abundance of salmon restored

Historic abundance of salmon restored in Alaska Fall 2013

Our 2012 ocean pasture restoration project in the NE Pacific is now widely acclaimed as being largely responsible for bringing this years Columbia River salmon to the greatest abundance in history as supported by actual records. Our work cost a fraction of 1% of the annual BPA Columbia river salmon budget.

What the BPA and it’s fish cabal seem to ignore is the fact that salmon put on 5% of their body weight in fresh water and 95% in the ocean pasture part of their life. Not a penny is spent by BPA on ocean pasture management, restoration, and revival. That’s where I have stepped in.

My work of 2012 was ideally situated and timed to provide this years Columbia river salmon with a restored and revived ocean pasture when as baby salmon swimming out to sea in 2012 instead of mostly starving they were treated to a feast. This work has proven to bring back the fish everywhere from Alaska to the mighty Columbia.

The work of BPA and others in restoring Columbia in stream salmon conditions has surely contributed greatly to their numbers, but experts are unanimous in saying that historic returns like this year are the result of thriving ocean pastures.


There is a very comprehensive book that tells the history of the Columbia River Salmon Industrial complex titled  “The Great Salmon Hoax”. It was researched and written some 20 years ago by a lawyer who spent 6 years on legal cases dealing with salmon of the Columbia River. James Buchal’s work stands out in providing an illuminating view of how the salmon of the Columbia River were made into a veritable “Golden Goose” for myriad special interest groups.

US Army Corp of Engineers NW Command

Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife Bulletin

Bonneville Power Administration