Portland, Ore. --
The success of fish populations throughout the Willamette Valley is dependent on support from a network of agencies. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is taking steps to help protect and sustain fish populations, and to meet the National Marine Fisheries Service’s 2008 Willamette Valley Project Biological Opinion requirements for endangered fish species.
Built in the mid-1960s, Fall Creek Dam is part of a system of 13 reservoirs and dams operated and maintained by the Willamette Valley Project to reduce the risk of annual flooding downstream and provide multiple other benefits to the region. The dam, however, poses a challenge for migrating fish moving up or downstream of Fall Creek.
To overcome this challenge at Fall Creek, the Corps recently completed the Fall Creek Adult Fish Collection Facility in April 2018 to collect returning native salmon and transport them upstream to spawn.
Fall Creek is an important tributary in the Middle Fork Willamette sub-basin because it typically sustains populations of naturally reproducing Spring Chinook at or near levels of historic abundance. Fall Creek also acts as important habitat for Pacific lamprey, winter steelhead, native resident fish species, native plants and native wildlife resources.
On May 23, 2019, the Corps invited stakeholders, partners and tribes to officially commemorate this facility on the 50th year of the Willamette Valley Project’s completion.
Members of the Grand Ronde and Siletz Tribes opened the commemoration with a tribal blessing ceremony. Guests heard from Col. Aaron Dorf, Portland District commander; Erik Petersen, Willamette Valley Project operations project manager; and Richard Piaskowski, fisheries biologist.
Sarah Dyrdahl, Executive Director at the Middle Fork Willamette Watershed Council, attended and spoke about the challenges of endangered species recovery.
“I see fish passage at Army Corps dams in the Willamette as a wicked problem. What are wicked problems? They are difficult to define, they have tangled root causes, they are constantly evolving, they have no obvious answers, and sometimes conflicting measures of success. And most importantly, they involve stakeholders with diverse values, interests and positions,” Dyrdahl explained. “These complex problems, problems like endangered species recovery, must be addressed by multiple parties because there are multiple causes of species decline.”
Cakes cut and refreshments served, visitors took tours of the facility to see the fish collection process up-close. The facility sits at the base of Fall Creek Dam on the Middle Fork River near Lowell, Ore. A fish’s journey through the facility begins as it approaches the dam and enters the fish ladder leading up to the facility. Fish jump over a false weir, slide down a flume into an anesthetic tank, are sorted and loaded onto a truck to be released upstream.
Corps biologists sort fish based on species and origin. Native, migrating species are sorted into pools elevated above fish transport trucks that eventually move the fish upstream of the dam to continue their journey to spawn. Non-native migratory fish, such as hatchery-bred chinook, are not hauled upstream but are released in the adjacent Fall Creek.
The facility highlights a successful aspect of Portland District’s implementation of the 2008 Willamette Biological Opinion: The Corps predicts this facility will increase the likelihood of Spring Chinook recovery for Fall Creek and the Willamette Valley as a whole.