CULVER — Reintroduced salmon and steelhead could be headed to spawning waters above the Pelton Round Butte dam complex as early as this year. But those that head into the Crooked River won’t get far – yet, anyway – thanks to a small hydroelectric dam owned by the Deschutes Valley Water District.
The dam at Opal Springs stands between migrating fish and 108 miles of upstream habitat along the Crooked River. The water district, however, is spearheading a $7 million project designed to ease their passage.
To that end, the district seeks to amend its federal license to create a bypass system for the steelhead, chinook, bull trout and resident trout populations that could migrate up the river. The project would include installing a fish ladder, adding other features to route fish away from the facility’s turbines, and raising the dam 6 feet.
A consultant working with the district to amend its federal license said fish passage facilities at Opal Springs Dam are particularly important now that the river could serve as a spawning ground for adult steelhead and salmon populations.
“This is an issue that needs to be solved,” Long View Associates senior consultant Finlay Anderson said at a meeting about the project at Culver City Hall on Tuesday.
But solving the problem won’t be quick. Before migrating steelhead, bull trout and other species can expect to see the upstream side of the dam, water district officials say the project must go through an application amendment process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. That could take up to five years.
To receive federal approval, both the district’s facility designs and its water management must be approved by a task force made up of outside agencies such as the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Trout Unlimited.
The Opal Springs project follows years of effort by the owners of the Pelton Round Butte dam complex to restore salmon and steelhead populations to the Deschutes River system. Joint owners Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs sought a license for their own fish passage systems in 2005. In 2009, they installed a $100 million submerged tower to restore downstream fish movement past the dams.
Pelton Round Butte managers currently breed reintroduced fish populations at the Round Butte Hatchery rather than releasing them above the dams. But that could soon change, as plans are in the works to release adult fish to spawning waters in the Metolius, Deschutes and Crooked rivers, as well as Whychus Creek.
Brett Hodgson, district biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Bend, said the federal government didn’t require dams to include fish-passage facilities when the Opal Springs Dam was built in 1982. The district is not required to add such facilities now, he said, but officials decided to do so in response to efforts to restore salmon and steelhead to the Deschutes River system.
“Once the reintroduction effort started taking place in 2007 and 2008, it provided some impetus to re-energizing those discussions and negotiations,” said Hodgson. “This has been on the radar for a long time.”
District Operations Manager Gary Lytle said the district will be looking for funding assistance from the community as the project moves forward.
“The district is on a course for looking for outside funding” for the project, which is estimated to cost between $7 million and $7.5 million, Lytle said. “Our expectation is that the community will help us. I’m extremely confident that we will obtain the required funding.”
In the meantime, Lytle said, the water district’s board of directors is considering a temporary solution for the dam’s fish-passage problem “as a stopgap measure until we get the permanent facilities constructed.”
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Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2011