PRIEST RIVER — Mark your calendar if you would like to weigh in on system operations on the Columbia River.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration are in the process of preparing a joint environmental impact statement to guide future operations of the 14 federal dam and reservoir projects on the Columbia River system in Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon. A draft version of the document wasn’t expected until March 2021, although a memorandum by President Donald Trump is expediting the process.
The draft EIS is now slated for public review in February 2020.
“That’s a ways out, I know. But this is a shorter deadline,” Logan Osgood-Zimmerman, senior water manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Seattle District, said during a lightly attended Albeni Falls Dam operations update meeting on Wednesday.
In October 2018, Trump released a memo promoting the reliable supply and delivery of water in the West.
“Unless addressed, fragmented regulation of water infrastructure will continue to produce inefficiencies, unnecessary burdens among the federal government, states, tribes and local public agencies that deliver water to their citizenry,” Trump said in the memo. “To meet these challenges, the Secretary of the Interior and the secretary of Commerce should, to the extent permitted by law, work together to minimize unnecessary regulatory burdens and foster more efficient decision-making so that water projects are better able to meet the demands of their authorized purposes.”
The comment period is not ample — 45 days — and corps officials said it’s typical for the agency to grant requests to extend the comment period. However, the corps expects time-extension requests to be turned down in light of the presidential memo.
“It most likely will not be extended,” Osgood-Zimmerman said.
The Columbia River system operations EIS process began in September 2016, which gave way to scoping and development of alternatives for detailed evaluation over the last two years. The draft EIS is undergoing a detailed analysis in the run-op to the document’s release.
A final EIS is slated for completion in June 2020 and a record of decision could issue in September 2020, according to the updated schedule.
The corps’ Seattle District spokesman, A. Scott Lawrence, there is not a great deal of information available on the EIS, but expects that to change by the time the corps hosts another dam operations update this summer.
“Hopefully, by the time we come out back in August we’ll have a little bit more information. Right now this is about all we got,” said Lawrence.
Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.