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Willamette BiOp For Fish: Four Subbasins Focus Of Corps’ Salmon Reintroduction Programs Above Dams
Posted on Friday, June 16, 2017 (PST)

Work to satisfy the requirements of the Willamette River biological opinion to protect fish is progressing on at least two fronts, according to information given this week at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s meeting in Corvallis, June 14.

 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying, designing and installing facilities that will provide efficient passage of both adults and juvenile chinook salmon at the agency’s dams, making progress toward salmon reintroduction to areas upstream of Corps dams, all required by the BiOp.

 

Downstream, three conservation organizations – the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and Green Belt Land Trust -- are improving the river’s habitat through land purchases and habitat projects.

 

The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service issued in 2008 their biological opinions for populations of Oregon chub, bull trout, spring chinook salmon and winter steelhead that inhabit the Willamette River and its tributaries. The Oregon chub has since been delisted, the first listed fish to do so. (See CBB, Jan. 19, 2017, “Study Shows Successful Reintroduction Of Oregon Chub Also A Genetic Success” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438205.aspx)

 

In addition to 13 dams, the Willamette Valley Project, built and operated by the Corps, consists of reservoirs, several fish hatcheries and 92 miles of riverbank protection projects in the southern and central areas of the Willamette River watershed from Cottage Grove to just north of Salem.

 

“Passage over these high head dams are an essential feature of the BiOp,” said Karl Weist, Oregon Council staff, as he introduced Ian Chane, Columbia River Fish Mitigation Program manager for the Corps.

 

Corps dams are used for flood control, irrigation and water supply, but not all produce hydropower, according to Chane. The Corps’ responsibilities also include fish and wildlife mitigation and recreation.

 

Four sub-basins are the focus of the Corps’ salmon reintroduction programs: North Santiam River (Detroit and Big Cliff dams) and South Santiam (Green Peter and Foster dams), both for spring chinook and winter steelhead; South Fork of the McKenzie River (Cougar Dam) for spring chinook & bull trout; and Middle Fork of the Willamette River (Hills Creek, Dexter and Lookout Point dams) for spring chinook.

 

The Willamette River system is much different than the Columbia River system, Chane said, in that most of the dams were not built with fish passage in mind. That poses problems for the Corps in reintroducing salmon and steelhead upstream of the dams, an expensive proposition.

 

In 2008, the year the Willamette BiOp was issued, the total initial budget estimate to complete the requirements in the BiOp for such things as fish passage at the dams and habitat projects downstream was about $300 million, Chane said.

 

The revised budget estimate now has risen to $757 million.

 

That includes passage at Cougar and Detroit dams and continued research and monitoring to determine the biology of fish passage at the dams.

 

Eventually the Corps will fund the three legs of reintroduction: trap adults and transport them over the dams, fix temperature at the dams and get the juveniles back downstream.

 

An issue the Corps is trying to resolve is that water control patterns at the dams driven by flood control rule curves, power and storage often conflict with fish migrations.

 

As an example, Chane said, the reservoir behind Cougar Dam on the South Fork of the McKenzie River can rise as much as 80 feet with a one-day heavy rainfall. The dam is operated primarily for flood control and spring fish have trouble finding a route down river. That’s why, he said, the Corps is exploring structural options.

 

Cougar will be the first to have downstream passage, he said, perhaps by 2020.

 

Another example is Detroit Dam, which releases water from the bottom of the lake in summer that is too cold for migrating fish, but “if we drop the reservoir in the fall for flood control, we will release water that is too warm and that interferes with chinook incubation downstream,” Chane said. The Corps can use the Big Cliff reregulating dam downstream to help mix water to find the right temperature.

 

“Our goal at Detroit is to eventually pass juveniles volitionally,” he said. “That’s definitely a challenge at a project that has over 500 feet of head.”

 

Fall Creek Dam on the Middle Fork of the Willamette already has downstream passage for juveniles. Passage at other dams will follow: Foster Dam on the South Santiam in Fiscal Year 2018, Cougar Dam in 2020, Detroit Dam temperature control in 2021 and Lookout Point Dam on the Middle Fork is unscheduled, pending research.

 

The Corps is also considering reservoir mixing facilities such as Portland General Electric’s and the Warm Springs Tribes’ selective water withdrawal tower in Lake Billy Chinook on central Oregon’s Deschutes River that is part of another above-dam salmon reintroduction program.

 

Over the next two years, the Corps intends to spend $18.68 million in Fiscal Year 2017, $20.32 million in Fiscal Year 2018 for design and studies, as well as modifications for downstream passage at Foster Dam and completion of a Fall Creek adult fish collection facility. Budgets for future years are yet to be determined.

 

A Council May 31 memorandum on Chane’s presentation is at https://www.nwcouncil.org/media/7491138/c10.pdf

 

Building strong habitats is another requirement of the Willamette BiOp, which calls for two habitat projects each year.

 

Funding for these projects comes from the Bonneville Power Administration, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and Meyer Memorial Trust.

 

The Willamette BiOp restoration project is an umbrella project that was just re-approved by the Council this week for $800,000 in FY2017 (see the Council’s June 6 memorandum at https://www.nwcouncil.org/media/7491126/c01.pdf).

 

The objectives of the restoration projects are to establish anchor habitat sites (there are 12), re-establish channel complexity and length, and reconnect and reforest flood plains, according to Andrew Dutterer, Partnerships Coordinator for OWEB.

 

In Fiscal Year 2016, total project costs were $2,867,271. Of that OWEB contributed $1,442,271, Meyer Memorial $725,000 and BPA $700,000.

 

Today there are about 25 active restoration projects on the mainstem Willamette: in 2008 there was just one. Over the years, 3,906.5 acres of flood plain and riparian forests have been restored, 15.54 miles of side channels have been reconnected to the flood plain, 23 fish passage barriers have been improved or removed, 18 miles of instream habitat has been restored and 46 acres of wetlands have been enhanced.

 

“These types of accomplishments help build resiliency into the river system,” Dutterer said. He pointed to the Oregon chub as a success of the habitat restoration projects. Before habitat improvements there were just 1,000 chub, he said, now there are 140,000 and it has been delisted.

 

Dan Bell, Director of the Willamette Strategic Partnerships for the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, said that the goal is for 16,180 acres of habitat to be protected by 2025. One way to do that is to acquire property and manage it into perpetuity.

 

An example is Harkens Lake, Bell said, managed by the Greenbelt Land Trust. Some 371 acres were acquired in 2011 and restoration took place on 350 acres through 2016 at a cost of $3,203,498. BPA’s investment was $961,238. About 2.5 miles of side channels were improved in the project.

 

Another example is the Willamette Confluence, managed by the Nature Conservancy, at the confluence of the Middle and Lower Middle Willamette River. Bell said 635 acres were purchased in two steps in 2010 and in 2015, and restoration will continue through 2018 at a total cost of $9 million. Funding is from Meyer Memorial Trust, OWEB and NOAA-NMFS Restoration Center. When done, the project will connect more than 400 acres of floodplains.

 

The Council’s May 31 memorandum is at https://www.nwcouncil.org/media/7491139/c11.pdf

 

The Willamette River BiOp is at http://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/Missions/Environment/Fish/WVP-BiOP/

 

Also see:

 

-- CBB, Sept. 23, 2016, “Trucking Spawning Salmon Above Willamette Dam Showing Success In Offspring Survival, Adult Returns” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437603.aspx

 

-- CBB, Dec. 11. 2015, “Report: Willamette Basin Tributaries Likely Will Become Sufficiently Warm To Threaten Salmonids” http://www.cbbulletin.com/435672.aspx

 

-- CBB, Sept. 12, 2014, “Study Shows Hatchery Spring Chinook In Upper Willamette River Closely Related To Listed Wild Fish” http://www.cbbulletin.com/432072.aspx

 

- CBB, November 14, 2014, “Draft Proposal Adds To ESA-Driven Efforts To Improve Passage For Wild Upper Willamette Chinook,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/432627.aspx

 

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