EWEB, Conservation Groups Announce Planned Fish Ladder

Eugene, Oregon

Yesterday, the Eugene Water and Electric Board announced an agreement reached after months of arduous settlement negotiations between EWEB, conservation groups, environmental groups, Indian tribes and state agencies regarding the final license application for EWEB’s Carmen-Smith Hydroelectric Project. Interested parties spearheaded by Trout Unlimited’s Kate Miller entered into negotiations with EWEB hoping to provide greater environmental protections and enhancement actions while allowing EWEB to continue to operate the project.

Everyone at yesterday’s signing ceremony hailed the agreement as a positive step for restoring endangered spring chinook salmon and bull trout populations in the Mckenzie basin while allowing EWEB to utilize a clean, non-polluting energy resource. Highlights of the agreement 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.
  • 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.

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 powerhouse at the end of this tunnel that generates electricity.  This diagram should help clarify matters:

Carmen Smith Hydroelectric Project

There were many notable people at yesterday’s signing ceremony including Robert Lohn, Regional Administrator Northwest NOAA Fisheries who was quoted as saying, “the Willamette system is fractured and broken and we need to reconnect it, lest we lose our struggling salmon runs.”

I couldn’t agree more. Keep posted and get involved. There is a lot of momentum and now is the time to restore the Willamette watershed.–KM

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