and rainbow trout will have an easier time traveling the streams around the La
Grande Reservoir in northeast Oregon with the recent $1.6 million construction
of fish passage in the Beaver Creek watershed.
watershed, on Wallowa-Whitman National Forest land south of the city, was once
La Grande’s primary water source, U.S. Forest Service La Grande District Ranger
Bill Gamble said. Deep water wells replaced the city’s dependency on Beaver
Creek, but a diminishing groundwater supply means the reservoir is still
critical for future water security.
2013 the Forest Service completed an environmental analysis of the city’s use
of the Beaver Creek watershed and renewed its special use permit for another 20
years. Gamble said fish passage was not a Forest Service requirement, but the
permit requires the city to follow all state, federal and local laws. Fish
passage is an Oregon state requirement through House Bill 3002, passed in 2001.
the state requires passage over artificial obstructions,” Gamble said. House
Bill 3002, states, “…fish passage is required in all waters of this state in
which native migratory fish are currently or have historically been present.”
Ronde Model Watershed of La Grande helped secure funding for the project and
provided a technical review. Director Jeff Oveson said a member of his staff,
Jesse Steele, snorkeled in Beaver Creek and its tributaries and found
steelhead, one of the state’s listed migratory fish species.
before House Bill 3002 passed in the early 2000s the city was considering fish
passage. Norm Paullus, director of public works for La Grande, said since
passage over the dam was first considered 18 years ago, he is the third person
to fill the public works position.
said fish are often seen stuck at the base of the dam where eggs laid by
spawning fish would dry up on the porous rocks.
getting to the dam is tricky for fish. Oveson said Beaver Creek’s steep
gradient made it difficult to build a more natural fish passage.
stream going up to the dam is steep, rugged country,” Oveson said.
the criteria established by the state and federal government we wanted to
develop a design that would realistically create an artificial stream.”
said 65 pre-cast concrete weir structures were installed in the steep gradient,
changing the existing spillway into a set of pools and steps over the dam.
Trees with intact rootwads and boulders were used to change the channel
connections, so fish can get up and over the obstructions.
said from the dam downstream there was a 30 to 40 foot vertical drop over the
course of 500 feet. The vaults are like gradual stair steps; holding pools that
allow fish to rest.
other four fish barriers, Gamble said, are points of diversion along the stream
that go into pipelines.
will open quite a lot of spawning and rearing and will benefit resident fish as
well,” Gamble said.
Department of Fish and Wildlife provided input, such as how and where to
relocate fish during construction and what rock sources to use in the new
than 17 miles of habitat above the dam will now be available for migratory fish
in a pristine forest that Paullus said has never been logged. There are few
roads in the watershed near Ladd Canyon and there is no direct vehicle access
to the dam.
of the project’s delay revolved around building passage that wouldn’t negatively
impact the environment, Paullus said.
Power Administration ratepayer fees and Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board
lottery funds provided a majority of the funding. The City of La Grande
committed $600,000 to the project, Paullus said; mostly from the $20,000 La
Grande receives each year through an agreement with Oregon Water Trust. The
agreement allows the Trust to take water out of the reservoir and put it in the
stream at certain times of the year to help fish in the lower Grande Ronde
River. A valve on a pipe at the bottom of the dam can be opened to regulate
were looking at adding volume and taking it out of the reservoir,” Paullus
said. “The advantage we didn’t realize was having cold water coming off the bottom
of the lake – warm water kills fish.”
area around the reservoir accessible from the Ladd Canyon exit south of La
Grande is popular for hikers, cyclists and horseback riders, but during
construction pedestrian traffic is discouraged. June 20 a notice posted on the
Wallowa-Whitman National Forest website was prompted by reports of “near
misses” between heavy equipment operators and pedestrians. The notice says the
main access road for construction crews is Forest Road 4305-270 is already
closed to vehicular traffic.
is scheduled for completion by Nov. 1.