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Draft Proposal Adds To ESA-Driven Efforts To Improve Passage For Wild Upper Willamette Chinook
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2014 (PST)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week released for public comments a draft environmental assessment of a proposed plan to upgrade the existing fish collection facility at west central Oregon’s Fall Creek Dam to enhance upriver passage of adult Upper Willamette River chinook, steelhead and other native species.


The preferred alternative provides volitional swim-up capacity, the ability to hold fish, and water-to-water transfer, all of which reduce stress and injury and improve fish survival, according to the Corps. The facility is intended to capture, particularly, salmon and steelhead that can then be transported aboard tanker trucks for release upstream of the impassable dam.


Wild Upper Willamette chinook are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Middle Fork population of UWR chinook salmon is considered to be at a very high risk of extinction based on an analysis of its recent abundance, productivity, spatial structure, and diversity


The “Fall Creek Dam and Reservoir Adult Fish Facility Upgrade” project is part of the Corps’ broader effort to implement the provisions of the 2008 Willamette biological opinions issued by NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Willamette River flows north to its confluence with the Columbia River at Portland.


The ESA BiOps outline actions aimed at improving the survival of listed chinook, steelhead, bull trout and chub that inhabit the Willamette River and its tributaries. The Willamette Valley Project, built and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 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.


The Corps holds and releases water in its reservoirs during Oregon’s rainy season to reduce the risks of potentially disastrous flooding in the Willamette Valley. Flows are also controlled to generate power, provide water for irrigation and other human uses such as recreation and during drier summer and fall months (when rivers run low) to improve water quality and conditions for migrating and spawning fish in the Willamette River and several of its tributaries.


The Fall Creek improvements would be kthe fourth adult passage facility improvement in the Willamette system since the BiOps were issued. The ESA document outlines a schedule for completion of such projects.


The Corps completed the Cougar Adult Fish Collection Facility in 2010 at Cougar Dam on the South Fork McKenzie River, and has witnessed increasing returns of wild adult spring chinook salmon each year since.


Construction of a new Minto Fish Collection Facility on the North Fork Santiam was completed in 2013 and a new Foster Fish Collection Facility on the South Fork Santiam was completed early this year.


The Corps is amidst advanced design and planning for upgrades to fish facilities at Dexter and Fall Creek dams, both in the Middle Fork of the Willamette River system.


Four Corps dams were constructed in the Middle Fork Willamette subbasin. Three were built on the Middle Fork itself -- Lookout Point (river mile 19.9) and Dexter (RM 16.8) were completed together in 1955 with the construction of Hills Creek (RM 47.8) being completed in 1961. Fall Creek Dam on Fall Creek (at RM 7.9) was later completed in 1965.


The four projects form a complete barrier to upstream fish passage for steelhead and chinook salmon, the draft EA says.


An upgraded fish facility is needed to reduce stress and injury sustained by adult fish during the process of collection, sorting and preparation for transport to the release sites 2 miles upstream of the dam.


Because the facility would be used in lieu of volitional fish passage, this measure is deemed by NMFS as an essential first step toward addressing low population numbers caused by decreased spatial distribution, primarily from loss of habitat, which is a limiting factor for Upper Willamette River chinook salmon and steelhead, the draft EIS says.


Improved collection and release of adult fish would minimize fish stress and injury, resulting in improved upstream fish passage for spawners. Lack of access to critical habitat above the dam, injury and mortality associated with inadequate passage facilities, and restriction to degraded habitat below the dams has likely contributed to steep declines observed in these populations and has reduced the functioning of critical habitat.


The 2008 NMFS BiOp states a new fish collection facility must be built at Fall Creek that complies with NMFS criteria for upstream passage/collection facilities. The existing facility does not comply with NMFS criteria and has been found to be deficient in its ability to hold adult fish following sorting, and to transfer fish in water from facility to transport vehicle (water-to-water transport).


Replacing the existing facility to safely handle, sort, and load adult fish may decrease pre-spawning mortality of all fish handled at the facility, resulting in improvements in fish survival upstream of the Fall Creek Dam.


For more information, please visit:


The draft EA is available on Portland District’s website at:


The Fall Creek Dam and Reservoir Adult Fish Facility Upgrade is part of the Corps’ broader effort to implement the provisions of the 2008 Willamette Biological Opinions. For more information, please visit


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