Speaking at yesterday’s signing ceremony, Robert Lohn, Regional Administrator Northwest NOAA Fisheries was quoted as saying, “the Willamette system is fractured and broken and we need to reconnect it, lest we lose our struggling salmon runs.”
Yesterday, the Eugene Water and Electric Board, conservation groups, environmental groups, Indian tribes and state agencies announced an agreement that moves incrementally in that direction.
EWEB was required to submit a relicensing application to FERC to continue its Carmen-Smith Hydroelectric project on the mainstem of the upper Mckenzie River. Currently, Trailbridge dam blocks endangered spring chinook from reaching spawning habitat in the upper Mckenze river, Smith river and Sweetwater creek. It also fragments the habitat of endangered bull trout. EWEB had assured the conservation community of its plans to construct a ladder as part of its new operating license; however, at the last moment EWEB announced its plan to trap and haul fish around the dam rather than provide volitional passage. The conservation community, state agencies and environmental groups viewed this as inadequate and protested.
Now, following several months of difficult negotiations between EWEB’s representatives, state agencies and the non-applicant caucus (conservation groups) led by Trout Unlimited’s Kate Miller, the parties have formally announced an agreement on measures that will be included in the final license application. Highlights include:
- Construction and maintenance of a volitional fish ladder at Trailbridge dam allowing spring chinook access to spawning habitat and permitting bull trout to move throughout the basin.
- The provision of downstream passage at Trailbridge dam.
- EWEB will keep Trailbridge Reservoir at a level suitable to allow Bull trout unimpeded access to Sweetwater Creek at all times.
- Placement of spawning gravel in the Mckenzie river above Trailbridge and placement of gravel and large woody debris in the Smith River channel below Smith dam.
- Increased flows in the Smith and Carmen by-pass reaches.
- Maintenance of the existing spawning channel below Trailbridge dam.
- Barriers so that fish do not swim into the turbines at Trailbridge dam.
The signing ceremony formally marks the end of the negotiation phase and EWEB’s finalized request for a renewed operating license will go before the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee. If approved, the utility will be permitted to operate the project for another 50 years. I’d like to especially thank Kate Miller for all of her hard work that went into reaching this settlement.
The Carmen-Smith Hydroproject is an interesting piece of engineering. The entire Mckenzie river is impounded at Carmen Diversion dam shortly downstream from Koosah falls. The river is placed in a tunnel and flows underground where it outfalls into the Smith River reservoir to the north. The entire Mckenzie is dewatered for a couple miles before it springs back to life at Blue Pool/ Tamolitch Dry Falls. The river flows for another couple miles before being impounded again at Traibridge dam/reservoir. Meanwhile, there is another tunnel/penstock that connects Smith Reservoir to Trailbridge reservoir and there is a pwerhouse at the end of this tunnel that generates electricity. This diagram might help clarify matters:
This is one important piece of a much larger puzzle. Spring chinook salmon runs historicaly numbered approximately 300,000 salmon per year in the Willamette and its tributaries. Unfortunately, dams have restricted access to the overwhelming majority of spawning and rearing habitat and wild chinook returns to the Willamette are on average about 10,000 salmon.
The Army Corps of Engineers in now completing its Bi-op regarding the operation of the remainder of the Willamette system including the dams on both the North and South Santiam, South Fork Mckenzie, Blue River, Fall Creek, Middle Fork Willamette, Coast Fork Willamette and other important fish bearing streams.
Now is the time to get involved to ensure the continued viability of the Willamette’s wild spring chinook.