State to share Bend fish ladder cost

Customers of three local irrigation districts will get a $600,000 break thanks to a state decision to share the tab for helping fish get past North Canal Dam on Bend’s north side.

The state on Monday approved a deal with Central Oregon Irrigation District, North Unit Irrigation District and Swalley Irrigation District in which the state would pick up as much as $600,000 of the cost for a fish ladder or other passage over the Deschutes River dam, a project estimated to run $1 million.

The agreement, which still has to be approved by the board of COID, amounts to a retreat by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife from an earlier demand that the districts pay the full price of the project.

The estimated savings would benefit the districts’ more than 5,300 customers by an average of $112 each.

Sen. Chris Telfer, R-Bend, said the state’s new stance has prompted her to withdraw a bill in the Legislature that would have eliminated the fish passage requirement altogether.

“We accomplished everything we needed to,” Telfer said.

Steve Johnson, manager of COID, called the deal a good compromise that will benefit the districts, the state and the fish.

“While we didn’t start out at the same page at the beginning, I think we ended up at what I would consider a triple win situation,” he said of the negotiations with the state.

Last summer, ODFW informed district officials that two hydroelectric power projects being installed by Swalley and COID triggered a state requirement that fish passage must be added whenever existing river obstructions such as dams are renovated or replaced.

The districts were shocked. For one thing, the new hydroelectric projects were nowhere near the dam and would not hurt fish. The Swalley hydro plant is five miles away on the district’s canal, and COID’s project is about two miles away.

The state’s new requirement also threatened Swalley’s need to generate power by April 1 in order to make debt service payments and honor related agreements. COID, whose plant is scheduled to start up by Sept. 1, faced a similar situation.

District officials said the law was being misapplied and got support from Telfer and the Oregon Water Resources Congress, which represents districts.

In the end, the state approved the district’s offer of $400,000 toward the fish passage, to be paid by April 2015.

Rick Kepler, ODFW’s water program manager, agreed that the arrangement is a good compromise and said he hopes the state can get funding together, potentially with the help of grant money, to put in fish passage within the next few years.

If fish passage is added to North Canal Dam as well as to the Newport Dam at Mirror Pond, it would create a 90-mile stretch of unblocked fish habitat that would help native migratory fish populations, including redband trout and bull trout, according to Kepler

The districts could still be on the hook for a larger chunk of the costs if they install a hydroelectric plant at the dam itself, which could happen in the next few years. Any such plant would allow the state to demand a new contribution toward the project.

However, at that point the districts could well have a private investor who’d help pick up some of the costs.

Source: The Bulletin ©2010

Telfer backs irrigation districts on fish passage

SALEM — State Sen. Chris Telfer, R-Bend, wants the state to drop a requirement that local irrigation districts help fish get across North Canal Dam, on Bend’s north side.

Since early this summer, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has been in negotiations with the Central Oregon Irrigation District, Swalley Irrigation District and North Unit Irrigation District about building a fish ladder or other means of passage over the dam, which divides the middle and upper portions of the Deschutes River. The districts say the project will cost about $1 million.

The department says that two hydroelectric power projects being installed by Swalley and COID have triggered a state requirement that whenever existing river obstructions are renovated or replaced, fish passage should be added. The districts, which divert water from the dam for irrigation, say the law is being misapplied. They say they are willing to help pay for only about $400,000 toward a future fish passage project, and not until 2015.

If the department doesn’t compromise, they hope Telfer can get a bill passed in a special session planned for February.

Suzanne Butterfield, general manager of Swalley Irrigation District, said paying the entire estimated $1 million price tag would make the district’s investment in hydroelectric power not “pencil out.”

“It would be different if we were asking for more water at the dam,” she said. “We’re not affecting one iota of what happens up at the dam … We just feel that it’s very unfair to be saddled with this.”

Telfer, who is preparing a bill that would eliminate the fish passage requirement for in-canal hydro projects, agreed: “They’re not changing the stream flows … they’re not changing anything, just putting hydro on their irrigation canal.

Projects in the works

Swalley is building a small project about 5 miles from the diversion point. The project, in conjunction with a plan to pipe 5.1 miles of the canal for efficiency purposes, will help return water to the middle Deschutes.

COID is working on a similar project about 2 miles from the dam, one scheduled to start generating power by Sept. 1.

Butterfield, who is part of ongoing negotiations with the department, says the district needs the state to sign off on an agreement by April 1, when Swalley wants to start selling electricity from its project. Otherwise, an inability to start up on time will jeopardize the district’s ability to make debt service payments and honor other agreements that are contingent on the project operating.

“We’re all a little bewildered,” said Anita Winkler of the Oregon Water Resources Congress, a group that represents irrigation districts. She added that the two projects “are doing good stuff for the fish because they won’t take as much water from the river.”

Officials, activists weigh in

State officials don’t dispute that the hydro projects won’t hurt fish. That’s because screens at the districts’ division point prevent fish from getting in the canals.

But they say the projects still trigger the fish passage requirement. They say the law requiring fish passage is part of a long-term plan to restore fish passage around the state.

Rick Kepler, the department’s water program manager, said that in-canal hydro projects such as the districts’ are “a good thing.” But he said obstructions like the North Canal Dam as well as the Newport Dam at Mirror Pond “have been blocking passage for a long time; we’d kind of like to get that resolved as well.”

Kepler said that if fish passage is added to those two dams, just 1.3 miles apart, it will create a 90-mile stretch of unblocked fish habitat, helping native migratory fish populations, including redband trout, bull trout, suckers and more.

Two environmental activists, when asked about the state’s focus on North Canal Dam, said that other fish passage projects would be more beneficial from an environmental perspective. But Ryan Houston of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and Jim Seitz, who represents Trout Unlimited and Central Oregon Flyfishers, say they welcome any fish passage im- provements.

What’s next?

Butterfield said that irrigation districts are willing to do their part. In fact, they have been willing to pay for fish passage when the dam needs a major renovation.

That could happen quite soon, as the districts are among several groups vying for permission to build a hydropower plant at North Canal Dam itself. Any such plant would trigger the state’s fish passage requirement.

Telfer has submitted legislation to help the districts to the Legislative Counsel Office that provides legal services to the Legislature. Once the bill has been vetted legally, she hopes to introduce it in February.

Source: The Bulletin ©2009