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Corps Moves Forward On New Facilities In Willamette Basin To Collect,Transport Wild Fish Above Dams
Posted on Friday, August 24, 2012 (PST)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Portland District will soon start a major construction project at Foster Dam near Sweet Home, Ore., to upgrade parts of the dam’s existing adult fish collection facility, which will be a next step in an ongoing process to resurrect salmon populations long cut off from the Willamette River headwaters.

The Corps, which operates numerous dams in the Willamette River basin as well as elsewhere in the Columbia River basin, awarded an $18.6 million construction contract to The Natt McDougall Company of Tualatin, Ore., to construct the new facilities at Foster Dam, according to a Corps press release. McDougall will start moving equipment to the site and begin preparatory work within the next month. Construction activity will continue through early 2014.

The Willamette River is one of the largest tributaries in the Columbia River basin and contains a diverse and complex system of streams, natural habitat and human-made features. The Willamette Valley Project, built and operated by the Corps, consists of 13 multipurpose dams and reservoirs, several fish hatcheries and approximately 92 miles of riverbank protection projects in the southern and central areas of the Willamette River watershed from Cottage Grove, Ore., to just north of Salem, Ore.

In July 2008 NOAA Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service each issued a biological opinion to the Corps, BPA and Reclamation (the Willamette Valley Project action agencies) to ensure that the continued operation of the Willamette Valley dams, reservoirs, hatcheries and 42 miles of the riverbank protection projects will not reduce the likelihood of survival and recovery of the four fish species listed under the Endangered Species Act, wild Willamette River steelhead, spring chinook salmon, bull trout and Oregon chub.

The biological opinions include “reasonable and prudent” alternatives and measures, or actions, to minimize possible adverse effects on listed species and their critical habitat. They also require monitoring and reporting to ensure compliance with requirements. Among the RPAs are strategies for providing upstream and downstream passage for fish at high-head hydro projects that have for the past several decades blocked access to headwater spawning and rearing habitat.

Upgrading this and several other adult fish facilities is one of the measures called for in the National Marine Fisheries Service’s 2008 biological opinion, which addresses protection of endangered Upper Willamette Basin spring chinook salmon and winter steelhead.

The new facility aims to improve the hands-free collection, sorting and transportation of wild fish above the dam to allow them to spawn naturally.

For more information about the Foster Dam Adult Fish Facility Upgrade Project, visit Portland District’s website at:

http://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/About/Currentprojects/FosterFishCollectionFacilityRebuild.aspx

An initial attempt to improve upstream passage in the Willamette River basin was launched at Cougar Dam on the South Fork McKenzie River, which is located about an hour east of Eugene, Ore.

The Cougar adult collection facility, completed in 2010, is smaller but similar to the Minto facility currently under construction on the North Santiam River near Gates, and the planned Foster Dam upgrades. The new Minto facility is scheduled to begin operations next year.

Cougar's facility has drawn in several hundred wild adult spring chinook salmon each summer. About 330 wild fish have been collected at the facility so far this year, with perhaps 100 or so more expected, said the Corps’ Greg Taylor.

Most are likely the product of hatchery produced fish that spawned naturally in the river. The hope is that ongoing research will find solutions for providing downstream passage for juvenile fish that are being produced by the wild salmon being collected and transported to habitat above Cougar.

“We haven’t made any significant improvements to downstream passage” thus far, Taylor said.

The Cougar facility serves as a base for a variety of research projects that are helping the Corps and fish managers to better understand the native fish populations and how to best help them.

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