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$60 million fish passage for Soda Springs Dam
Structure will open up spawning beds on North Umpqua

Herald and News 11/25/11

TOKETEE (AP) — Depending on the weather, anywhere from 50 to 100 people are hammering, welding and scraping away at the Soda Springs Dam every day.

The workers are building a $60 million fish passage to open up for the first time in 60 years spawning beds on the upper reaches of the North Umpqua River.

The fish passage, expected to be completed before the end of 2012, also will be the last word in a 17-year debate on whether to build a ladder or tear out the dam.

But the debate will close with a few lingering complaints from conservationists who hope the ladder will work but remain skeptical.

“It’s an amazing amount of engineering and when you look at it, it’s kind of awesomely cool. But if fish can truly make it up the ladder, I will be stunned and amazed and pleased,” said Diana Wales, president of the Umpqua Valley Audubon Society. “I think it was a mistake not to remove the dam.”

The dam was put into operation in 1952 as part of the North Umpqua Hydroelectric Project, a network of hydroelectric generators in the Umpqua National Forest that creates enough power for 40,000 homes.

The dam regulates the natural flow of the river to generate electricity during times of peak demand, making the power “more valuable” to PacifiCorp, said Monte Garrett, who oversees the project.

But the dam also prevents fish from swimming upstream to historic spawning grounds.

In 2003, federal regulators renewed PacifiCorp’s license to operate the dam on a public waterway, but the utility company was required to build the fish passage.

“This is a good facility. (Fish passage is) in the best interest for our customers and social values,” Garrett said.

Construction began in June 2010, and the weather, confines of the canyon and the geology of the North Umpqua River have put the project a year behind schedule and increased costs many times above the original estimate.

“It’s an engineering challenge that leaves everyone amazed that it can be done,” Garrett said.

Conservation groups had pushed for the dam’s removal, arguing that the dam not only blocks spawning grounds but also keeps gravel and woody debris from replenishing downstream spawning beds.

“Spawning gravel is as important as fish passage. What’s behind the Soda Springs Dam is a lot of good spawning ground material that would benefit the whole river,” said Stan Vejtasa of the Umpqua Valley Audubon Society. “We’re all hoping this works. I’ve sort of made peace with them now, but I’ve had frustrations over this process in the past.”

AP photo

Monte Garrett, PacifiCorp project implementation manager, talks about fish passage that will open, for the first time in 60 years, spawning beds on the North Umpqua River.



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