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Posted 2/16/2018

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By Tom Conning, Public Affairs Office

Editor’s note: This article is part one of a series that will discuss various Corps actions in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to address Endangered Species Act-listed fish.

Fish project generates attention
PORTLAND, Ore. — An upcoming Corps construction project at Detroit Lake, Oregon has been generating buzz around the region because of its potential impacts on thousands of Willamette Valley residents.

This project, like many U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fish-related projects in the valley, is part of a broader effort to reduce the effects of Corps-operated dams on winter steelhead and spring Chinook salmon. Both species are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

But this topic at Detroit Dam isn’t new; it’s just gained momentum due to a public comment process initiated by the Corps in November. Kelly Janes, Portland District environmental resource specialist, spearheaded outreach to stakeholders across the valley.

“We want to find a solution together,” said Janes. “Input from the community is critical. For this process alone, we’ve received substantial information that will really guide our construction process and our environmental analysis of potential impacts.”

The construction project at Detroit Dam is addressing a reasonable and prudent alternative recommended by the 2008 Biological Opinions for the Willamette Valley. 

2008 Biological Opinions guide process
Federal law requires action agencies, in this case the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, to avoid jeopardizing the continued existence of Endangered Species Act-listed fish. That is, if those agencies want to continue operating and maintaining the 13 Corps-owned dams in the Willamette Valley. For the Corps, helping fish and maintaining operations are a priority. The way a federal agency accomplishes such a task is through consultation with the federal agencies that have regulatory authority over ESA-listed species on potential actions to modify and improve conditions for the listed fish.

In 2008, the action agencies received biological opinions, which outlined a reasonable and prudent alternative from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This action is to ensure continued operations of the dams, reservoirs and riverbank protection projects without precluding fish survival and it outlined several action items for the agencies. Since then, the Corps and Ian Chane, Portland District program manager for implementing the Willamette biological opinions, have been taking steps to meet that RPA. Steps that Chane says need to be technically and biologically feasible, cost effective and supportive of overall species recovery efforts.

“But it’s a challenging and complex problem because we have so many other items we have to balance,” he continued. “Factor in significant changes to operations, facilities being constructed under the biological opinions to enhance fish survival, and the balancing required of the existing authorized project purposes and it can get a bit challenging.”

The authorized project purposes that Chane mentioned include: flood risk management, hydropower generation, irrigation, municipal and industrial water supply, water quality, recreation, as well as fish and wildlife benefits.

Corps spends nearly $200 million for fish recovery efforts
Since 2008, the action agencies have completed a significant amount of “Biological Opinion” actions, and federally-funded obligations of $194 million through Fiscal Year 2016.

“These federal investments are a pivotal piece in the overall recovery effort for Willamette River spring Chinook salmon and winter steelhead,” Chane said. “Many factors have led to these species’ listing under the ESA. The construction of the dams was a significant factor, reducing the amount of habitat available for these two species.”

Additionally, technology during original construction did not provide effective downstream passage, and ultimately, the Corps initiated hatchery production to mitigate for the loss of habitat and associated wild fish production. 

“Advancements in downstream fish passage technology and a better understanding of fish behavior provide an optimistic future for these fish, specifically, that effective upstream and downstream passage can be provided,” Chane said. “Passage actions and changes in operations will have a substantial influence on these species, which address critical components of the overall recovery effort.”  

List of Corps completed actions
North Santiam River:
Interim Temperature Control/Downstream Fish Passage through Operational Modifications at Detroit (2009)
Adult Upstream Passage – Minto Adult Fish Collection Facility (2012)
Design underway for Long-term Temperature/Downstream Passage at Detroit (ongoing)

South Santiam River:
Extended Foster Dam Fish Weir Operations (2013) 
Adult Upstream Passage – Foster Adult Fish Collection Facility (2014)
Downstream Fish Passage Spillway Weir Modifications at Foster Dam (2017/2018)

McKenzie River:
Water Temperature Control Tower at Cougar Dam (2005)
Operational Dowsntream Fish Passage (2009)
Adult Upstream Passage – Cougar Adult Fish Collection Facility (2010)
Downstream Passage Testing w/Corps Portable Floating Fish Collection (PFFC) at Cougar (2014)

Middle Fork River: 
Downstream fish passage through Fall Creek Deep Drawdowns (2009)

Adult Upstream Passage – Fall Creek Fish Collection Facility Design (Construction 2016-2018)
Implementation of Middle Fork Willamette Research Monitoring and Evaluation Plan (2017)
Completed alternative evaluations and design for Dexter Adult Fish Collection Facilities

Habitat Technical Team work – land purchases/habitat restoration funded (ongoing)

To-do List for the Corps
North Santiam River:
Construct Long-term Temperature/Downstream Passage at Detroit (ongoing) with construction being initiated in Fiscal Year 2021

McKenzie River: 
Construct Long-term Downstream Passage at Cougar (ongoing) with construction being initiated in Fiscal Year 2020

The Corps will continue conducting research to further inform these actions, as well as verify the performance of the facilities once they are constructed and operational. Overall, the Corps’ goal is to ensure it achieves the anticipated benefits of the reasonable and prudent alternative. Furthermore, the two biological opinions terminate in 2023, which will require another round of consultations for compliance with the ESA.