The development of the Habitat Conservation Plan is about a 10-year process
By Jason Chaney
Since steelhead fish were reintroduced into the Crooked River Watershed two years ago, the City of Prineville has undertaken a plan to protect the species.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) required the re-introduction of the steelhead into the watershed as part of a new 50-year hydroelectric project license for Pelton Round Butte Dam.
The fish added to the Crooked River, McKay Creek, and Ochoco Creek are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As a result, the city is taking action to not only ensure the survival of the fish, but also shield the city from any liability for any steelhead killed in the watershed.
According to Prineville City Engineer Eric Klann, under the ESA, "It’s a $10,000 (fine) per fish if you kill a fish.” In order to prevent any costly penalties associated with inadvertently killing a steelhead, the city is in the process of developing a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP).
"The development of an HCP is a 10-year process,” Klann said. "We are in the second year.” During those first two years, the majority of the work has involved scientific studies. "We’re looking at how our activities impact them (the steelhead).”
These activities, according to Prineville City Manager Steve Forrester, include "anything that affects water,” such as wastewater and storm water projects, rainwater runoff, or city planning near a wetland.
At this point, Forrester said the city is working to mitigate the impact the HCP will have on the local business community.
"That’s what we are trying to manage at this point,” he said. "We haven’t had any significant impact to businesses with the re-introduction of steelhead or the HCP.”
Because the conservation plan will take about a decade to implement, the city will take advantage of two other methods for ESA protection.
According to Klann, the first method, which protects the city for two years, is a letter of prosecution discretion. The city recently received the letter from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). At that point, the city hopes to receive a NOAA "10(j) designation” that will protect them for another 10 years. By then they hope to have the HCP in place, which protects the city for 50 years.
"All of these processes take a long time to get in place,” Klann said.
The pursuit of an HCP will ultimately cost the city money, but is an investment Forrester believes is worthwhile in order to avoid greater financial penalties down the road.
"It’s a significant amount of money, but a small percentage of the budget (less than 5 percent of the city water and wastewater budget),” he said. "The investment the city has made and what we have planned for in the budget is necessary. The city is being very proactive in developing both short and long-term practices. "
Although the conservation plan will protect the city from ESA penalties down the road, this is not the primary purpose in creating the plan. In the end, it’s about saving the steelhead.
"The sole purpose of an HCP is to preserve the survival of the species,” Klann said.