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Crooked River To Get Fish Ladder At Opal Springs, Freeing Up 120 Miles Of Fish Habitat

Friday, January 26, 2018

A dam on the Crooked River in Central Oregon will soon add a fish ladder, giving adult salmon and steelhead an easier path to as much as 120 miles of additional spawning habitat and give a boost to a ten-year old reintroduction program for steelhead and salmon.

 Fish passage at the 4.3-megawatt Opal Springs hydroelectric project, licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 1982 and commissioned in 1985, had not been a part of the original dam’s plans. Runs of anadromous fish into the Crooked River, along with the upper Deschutes and Metolius rivers, were extirpated in the 1960s after construction of Portland General Electric’s Pelton/Round Butte Complex of dams on the mainstem Deschutes River blocked their passage.

 The Opal Springs Dam is owned and operated by the Deschutes Valley Water District and generates power for the water district’s 4,200 customers in Jefferson County.

 However, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, along with Portland General Electric, began a reintroduction program in 2009 and steelhead, particularly, have begun to return the Crooked River.

 As a result of the reintroduction program, naturally-produced smolts have been migrating downstream through the project since 2010 and steelhead adults have been returning to the Crooked River since 2012 aided by a trap and haul effort to move the fish around the dam, according to the water district’s filing with the Oregon Water Resources Department (

 “By helping to fund the project’s operation we help remove a major barrier to salmon and steelhead on the Crooked, making upstream habitat more accessible and supporting the larger reintroduction effort in the Deschutes Basin,” said PGE spokesperson Steve Corson. “Adults returning to our project that have been passed above Round Butte Dam have shown notable interest in the Crooked. We want to help make it a friendlier place for them.”

 This run season, PGE had radio-tagged 14 summer steelhead. Of those fish trapped and transported upstream of Pelton Round Butte Dam, none so far have been captured at Opal Springs to be released above that dam, said Rebekah Burchell, senior fisheries biologist for PGE.

However, “between two radio-tagged fixed stations and Deschutes Valley Water District personnel tracking these steelhead, they have picked up 7 of the 14 fish in the Opal Springs project area,” she added.

 PGE and ODFW biologists had tallied 886 spring chinook salmon, sockeye salmon and summer steelhead on their way back to the Crooked, Deschutes and Metolius rivers from 2012 to 2016. The tally for summer steelhead in 2015-16 was 45 fish; 93 in 2014-15; 50 in 2013-14; 132 in 2012-13; and 61 in 2011-12. (See CBB, June 17, 2017, “Biologists Tally 886 Returning Salmonids In First Five Years Of Deschutes Reintroduction Program,”

 The $10.72 million Opal Springs Fish Passage Project will open a more natural passage for adult salmon and steelhead moving upstream to spawn and juveniles in their downstream migration, all when the fish ladder becomes fully functional in 2019.

 As of this month, some $9.17 million has been committed to the project, according to the water district’s filing with OWRD.

 Funding is a joint effort by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (which has long considered fish passage at the dam a priority project), the Oregon Department of Transportation Mitigation Fund, the Bureau of Land Management, Trout Unlimited, Deschutes Partnership, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board Focused Investment Partnership, Energy Trust of Oregon, Portland General Electric and the water district. The water district, according to the OWRD filing, will pay 50 percent of the project cost.

 A grant from PGE to DVWD of $1 million to support the Opal Springs project will be paid once the fish ladder is completed, Corson said. The money comes from the Pelton Fund, which was set up as part of the Pelton Round Butte settlement agreement to support habitat and water related projects. The money was set aside by PGE and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation for these purposes.

 Corson said the grant will help acquire water rights to make sure there’s water in the ladder so that it’s usable for the fish and not for building the ladder.

 Construction of the fish ladder and pool raise is planned to begin this year with completion sometime in 2019.

 The fish ladder will be a volitional, 30 cubic feet per second vertical slot ladder and downstream passage for smolts will be through pneumatic crest gates and smooth “chutes,” said the OWRD filing.

 Opal Springs is actually a diversion dam. The water district describes it as a 21-foot-high, 175.2-foot-long, concrete-capped, rockfill diversion dam that creates a pool with a storage capacity of 106.4 acre-feet. It has a 16-foot-diameter, 160-foot-long steel penstock, two turbine-driven pumps of 175 and 480 horsepower.

 Also see:

 -- CBB, April 17, 2015, “Upper Deschutes Basin Reintroduction: Steelhead Seen Spawning Upstream Of Lake Billy Chinook,”

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