Wyden, Merkley seek to restore funding for NW fish screens

Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced legislation Thursday they said would protect fish populations and habitats while allowing for continued water supplies for irrigation and other uses in the Pacific Northwest.

The Fisheries Restoration and Irrigation Mitigation Act (FRIMA) would reauthorize a voluntary, cost-share program the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses to pay for installing fish screens that protect salmon and other fish from entering irrigation channels in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and western Montana. The program is also used to help keep irrigation channels free of debris.

“FRIMA is a homegrown and commonsense program with a proven track record in restoring salmon runs and protecting other fish habitats and species in the Pacific Northwest,” Wyden said. “This bill allows continued collaboration among water users, farmers, fishery managers and conservationists so that protected salmon runs and irrigation can sustainably coexist side-by-side.”

“Collaboration that protects our natural heritage and boosts our economy at the same time is the Oregon way – and that’s exactly what this bill promotes,” Merkley said. “This legislation will help restore critical habitat and ensure that our iconic salmon can thrive alongside the irrigation that is essential to Oregon ranchers and farmers.”

Since the program was first authorized in 2000, FRIMA has funded 127 projects that have re-opened more than 1,130 miles of habitat to fish passage. In total, 56 barriers to fish passage have been removed, 130 irrigation channels have been screened, and 18 fish passage evaluations have been completed, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The Oregon Water Resources Congress applauds the efforts of Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley to reauthorize the Fisheries Restoration and Irrigation Mitigation Act (FRIMA) program,” said April Snell, executive director of the Oregon Water Resources Congress. “The return of the FRIMA program will catalyze cooperative partnerships and innovative projects that provide immediate and long-term benefits to irrigators, fishery agencies, and local communities throughout the Pacific Northwest.”

The program was last reauthorized in 2009, and was funded until the end of 2015. Wyden has led the effort to authorize the program since its inception in 2000.