Projects aimed at satisfying the goals of the Willamette Project biological opinion will take a large share, about $40 million, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 2012 Columbia River Fish Mitigation budget, which is expected to total about $125.8 million.
The proposed fiscal year 2012 budget number for the CRFM was recently settled on by a congressional House-Senate conference committee, the Corps’ Randy Chong told the System Configuration Team Thursday. The SCT’s membership – federal, state and tribal officials – helps to prioritize work proposed for funding through the CRFM.
If approved by Congress and the president, the budget would be the second largest budget since the program was initiated in 1988. The largest was $134 million for FY2011.
The project was initiated to focus efforts on finding ways to improve survival for adults and juvenile salmon and steelhead through the Columbia/Snake river mainstem hydrosystem, which is operated by the Corps and the Bureau of Reclamation. Of particular concern are wild stocks that are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Most of the actions taken in the past were intended to improve the lot of fish navigating the Federal Columbia River Power System, a set of dams in the Columbia and lower Snake river systems.
The appropriation has been boosted, from a recent annual average of $80-85 million to accommodate research and capital improvements outlined in two 15-year ESA BiOps for the Corps’ Willamette Project that were issued on July 11, 2008 after eight years of federal “consultation.”
The BiOps evaluate the impacts on listed stocks caused by the 13 Willamette Project dams and reservoirs in western Oregon, the maintenance of 42 miles of channelized river, and operation of a Hatchery Mitigation Program. They recommend actions deemed necessary to counter those negative impacts.
The federal agencies involved include the Corps, the Bonneville Power Administration, the Bureau, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service. The Corps operates the dams, BPA markets power generated in the system, the Bureau administers water rights and NOAA Fisheries and the USFWS, which issued the BiOps, are charged with protecting listed stocks. Those species include Upper Willamette spring chinook salmon and winter steelhead, bull trout and Oregon chub.
The BiOps call for the development of up and downstream fish passage at three federal dams, the construction of a temperature control structure at another dam, the screening of irrigation diversions, improved hatchery practices and facilities and habitat improvements.
Of first order is work to be better able to trap returning wild salmon and steelhead and transport them around what are impassable dams for release into relatively pristine habitat in the headwaters of the Willamette and its tributaries.
A new adult fish collection facility began operations in the summer of 2010 at Cougar Dam on the South Fork McKenzie River and construction began last year to create a new and improved Minto Fish Facility on the North Santiam River, providing upstream passage for wild, threatened upper Willamette River chinook salmon and winter steelhead.
The trap and haul approach was chosen because the project’s dam are all tall, high-head facilities and the operations involve large fluctuations in reservoir levels. Both make the installation of fish ladders impractical.
The BiOp calls for the completion of improved adult fish traps at Minto in 2012. The Corps program manager for BiOp implementation, Mindy Simmons, says the project is on track. Construction began last year and will be completed this year in what is a second midwinter work window.
The 2013 budget calls for the start of construction on adult trapping facilities at Foster Dam on the South Santiam in 2013, with completion targeted next year. Planned are new/improved facilities at Dexter Dam on the Middle Fork Willamette in 2014 and at Fall Creek in 2015.
The collection facilities will be used to capture fish for hatchery broodstock and for transport above the dams, where they will be released to spawn on their own. The new facility will also serve as a juvenile acclimation site for mitigation hatchery production
The existing facilities at Minto were built in 1951 exclusively for the collection of broodstock to fuel mitigation production at Marion Forks Hatchery above Detroit Dam. The current facilities have deteriorated greatly over the years. Likewise existing Foster Dam facilities are inadequate.
Simmons said that the Minto and Foster construction projects will absorb roughly half of projected 2012 budget for the Willamette Project BiOp implementation.
About $12 million will be spent this year on a variety of research projects aimed at determining the proper path for further BiOp implementation. Among the questions yet to be answered are how juvenile fish hatched out above the dams can be guided down through reservoirs and, most likely, trapped and hauled around dams to continue their journey toward the Pacific Ocean. The BiOp schedule calls for installation of downstream fish passage facilities at Cougar by 2014, Lookout Point/Dexter Dam on the Middle Fork by 2021 and Detroit/Big Cliff by 2023.