September 21, 2007 - Bend Bulletin Writes Editorial - Give Irrigators Time
Oct 11, 2007
Give irrigators time
Published: September 21. 2007 5:00AM PST
The idea of reintroducing steelhead trout to Central Oregon rivers and streams above Pelton and Round Butte dams long has been a dream not only of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indians but of such groups as the Deschutes River Conservancy. The dream got a big boost when reintroduction became a condition of federal dam relicensing a few years back. The first steelhead in decades were introduced to Whychus Creek near Sisters this spring.
Reintroduction of fish fry is only the most visible step in what’s likely to be a very long process, however. The tribes’ and Portland General Electric’s experts have been working for several years on preparing a new way to move the fish around the dams, which were built in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The original plan, incorporated with the dams when they were built, was abandoned shortly after it was put in place. It involved the use of a pipe to move fish downstream past the dams, then fish ladders to allow them to come back up again. Unfortunately, water from the Deschutes, Crooked and Metolius rivers flowed through Lake Billy Chinook behind Round Butte Dam in such a way that fish never made it to the pipe. The system was abandoned in 1966, according to PGE, and the last fish passed downstream from the dam two years later.
Now, irrigators, conservationists and others are asking Uncle Sam to move slowly, should the current effort result in some loss of fish life. Because the fish are federally protected species, the consequences to irrigators and others could be severe without an appropriate waiver to the rules.
Yet, while scientists have learned much about fish migration in the years since the dams were built, getting everything in place and working correctly may take time. Not only must fish passage around the dams become possible, but habitat must be restored in rivers and creeks upstream of the dams. Irrigators must assure that no fish become trapped in closed systems, and doing so will cost money most irrigation districts don’t have on hand.
Just coordinating all the groups that will be involved in restoring steelhead runs is no small feat. And assuring that everything all those groups do works is, to some extent, a matter of time, trial and error. Assuring that they have the time to do the job right will, ultimately, be better for fish than a quick rush to punish irrigators if a handful of fish die in the process.