January 4, 2010 - Bend Bulletin Fish Passage Is Too Much To Ask

January 4, 2010
January 4, 2010 - Bend Bulletin Fish Passage Is Too Much To Ask

Fish passage is too much to ask

The Bulletin - Editorial Page
Published: January 04. 2010 4:00AM PST

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife should recognize this truth: Two small hydroelectric projects on local irrigation canals will benefit fish, not hurt them. So why punish the irrigation districts with a burdensome and unnecessary mandate?

Swalley Irrigation District and Central Oregon Irrigation District are installing hydro projects on irrigation canals five miles and two miles, respectively, away from the Deschutes River. The projects will be built on the canals, not the river, and because the canals are screened, no fish are in them. In other words, the projects add no further risk to fish anywhere on the Deschutes.

Nevertheless, ODFW argues, the districts and a third — North Unit Irrigation District — must pay for a fish passage at the diversion dam in Bend. It can, if it wishes, push the three into building the passage now, or it can take a broader and more well thought out approach. To do the latter, ODFW officials must consider not just one sliver of the problem, but the issue as a whole.

State law currently gives the department broad authority to demand that fish passages be built when irrigation districts and others make improvements to systems that put obstructions into rivers. In this sense, the law resembles those that require many buildings be made accessible to the handicapped when they undergo major renovation.

Unlike the latter law, however, rules governing fish passage improvements apparently give the department the authority to demand improvements even when the projects have no impact on an already existing obstruction. If the rules were the same for human accessibility upgrades, your local grocer could be required to build expensive handicap access facilities because the store a few miles down the road added on to its floral shop.

Not only does the fish passage requirement seem unjust, it also fails to weigh other aspects of improvements to fish habitat that result from projects like these two.

In addition to the hydro generation facilities, they include piping of existing canals. When the piping is completed, less water will seep through the beds of irrigation ditches, and more will remain behind in the Deschutes River.

In the final analysis, both ODFW and irrigation districts must weigh costs and benefits when planning projects and applying regulations to those projects. If irrigators decide a project is too expensive because of fish passage requirements, it won't be built. At that point, ODFW not only misses grabbing money for fish passage, it also loses the water that a piping project, for instance, would return to the river. The fish, which the agency is charged with protecting, are the losers.

Sen. Chris Telfer hopes the agency will see the problem with its current insistence on enforcing rules without thinking about alternatives. If not, she's prepared to introduce legislation to force change. It shouldn't have to come to that.


Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2009


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