Fish agency opinion calls for improvements to Willamette dams

NOAA Fisheries issued a biological opinion July 11 for 13 dams in northwestern Oregon’s Willamette River Basin, including eight hydroelectric projects operated by the Corps of Engineers.

Covering actions through 2023, the �biop� includes a schedule for completing juvenile fish passage improvements, and improving downstream water temperatures to a more natural seasonal pattern. It also includes a research and monitoring program to ensure any dam improvements to help fish are scientifically based and likely to succeed.

The biop examines the effects of operating the dams and 42 miles of bank protection projects on 13 populations of salmon and steelhead protected by the Endangered Species Act. It contains guidelines for the Corps, Bonneville Power Administration, and Bureau of Reclamation to operate and maintain the dams without threatening the existence of winter steelhead and Chinook salmon.

The opinion calls for construction and operation of downstream fish passage facilities at Cougar Dam by 2014, at Lookout Point Dam by 2021, and at Detroit Dam by 2023. Long-term improvements to water temperature at Detroit Dam are to be made through operational changes or structural modifications by 2018. The actions are expected to benefit listed salmon and steelhead recovery, NOAA Fisheries said.

While the biop is not a salmon recovery plan, NOAA Fisheries said efforts to make the dams more friendly to fish, to improve river water temperatures, and to improve fish hatchery practices will aid recovery efforts. Oregon is leading efforts to complete a formal salmon recovery plan for the Willamette Basin, the fisheries agency added.

The Corps owns and operates all 13 dams, primarily to reduce the risk of floods. BPA transmits and markets power generated from the eight dams with hydro plants: 30-MW Hills Creek (HNN 5/5/06), 120-MW Lookout Point (HNN 10/31/07), 15-MW Dexter, 25-MW Cougar, 80-MW Green Peter, 20-MW Foster, 100-MW Detroit, and 18-MW Big Cliff (HNN 11/15/07). BuRec manages irrigation contracts for water stored by the dams.

The Willamette River is one of the Columbia River’s largest tributaries. It empties into the Columbia River about 100 miles upstream from the Pacific Ocean. In May, NOAA Fisheries issued a separate biological opinion for operating the Columbia River Basin hydropower system. A national coalition led by dam removal advocates subsequently filed suit in federal court challenging the Columbia River biop. (HNN 6/25/08)

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