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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow ACHP Case Digest arrow Summer 2002 arrow Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington: Management of the Columbia River Power System
Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington: Management of the Columbia River Power System

Agencies: Bonneville Power Administration, Bureau of Reclamation, and Corps of Engineers
The Columbia River Power System consists of 14 dams along a stretch of the river that winds through northwestern Montana and northern Idaho, and along the border of Oregon and Washington.

The system contains virtually every kind of historic resource in the Northwest—from ancient pithouse villages to historic power generating facilities—and its operations have the potential to affect tens of thousands of these properties. A lack of a long-term, comprehensive agreement among the Federal agencies that control the power system threatens the preservation of these unique historic properties.

Three Federal agencies, the Bonneville Power Administration, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Corps of Engineers, manage and operate the 14 dams in the Columbia River Power System, which extends from northwestern Montana, westward through northern Idaho, and southward along the border of Oregon and Washington. The power system affects about 50 other dams and power-generating facilities that are privately owned in the river corridor.

The activities of the dams’ operations and maintenance are subject to Section 106 review, due in part to daily fluctuations of reservoir water levels that can erode historic properties below the high-water mark and dam release points.

Many of the power-generating facilities themselves are historically significant, while tens of thousands of other historic properties in the power system include some of the very best examples of prehistoric and historic resources in the United States and some of the most sacred and spiritual properties to Native Americans in the region.

Although the agencies have funded investigations on the power system’s effects on historic properties as part of the Section 106 review process, they have not yet developed a management program or review process that ensures that the effects have been adequately considered.

Many properties in the power system’s area erode before they can be documented, and fieldwork results are often not used to complete the Section 106 process. Moreover, the lack of compliance with the Section 106 process has reduced Indian tribes’ opportunities to participate in decisionmaking.

ACHP is helping craft an agreement with the Bonneville Power Administration, Indian tribes, and State Historic Preservation Officers that covers all of the Federal dams.

Instead of dedicating limited dollars and resources on a piecemeal basis, ACHP is encouraging all of the Federal agencies to view the power system comprehensively and develop an effective, integrated cultural resource management program based on partnerships with tribes, State Historic Preservation Officers, and other interested parties.

Among other benefits, such a holistic approach would produce more efficient use of limited resources for more useful outcomes, more opportunities to consult with tribes and others, and more relevant information about the nature, value, and distribution of historic and cultural resources.

Such an approach would also provide increased opportunities for coordinated heritage tourism and other economic benefits for the public and local businesses, and a management strategy that private power-generating facilities in the river corridor can build on as they pursue Federal licensing permits.

Staff contact: Alan Stanfill

Posted August 8, 2002

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