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

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