Chamber talk: Groups urge removaI of PacifiCorp’s Soda
Springs Dam on North Umpqua
By Garret Jaros
The removal of Soda Springs Dam is the best option for restoring historic fish runs and bringing long-term health to the North Umpqua River, say conservationists who recently withdrew from negotiations to relicense the 50-year-old North Umpqua Hydroelectric Project.
Penny Lind, executive director of the Roseburg-based environmental group Umpqua Watersheds Inc., and Stan Vejtasa, a representative of the Umpqua Valley Audubon Society, spoke on behalf of five conservation groups at the Roseburg Area Chamber of Commerce forum on Monday. Representatives from P acifiCoip presented their side of the issue to the chamber earlier this year.
Environmentalists say their opinion is supported by the 1997 North Umpqua Cooperative Watershed Analysis developed by PacifiCorp with contributions from scientists – both agency and private – policy makers, conservationists and oral histories from longtime river residents.
I want to talk to you about a dilemma and that’s Fish Creek, a 40-mile stretch of habitat for fish and wildlife that begins in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness,” said Lind, who has been involved in settlement talks since they began in 1997.
“Fish Creek historically was home to fish that are now listed as endangered and are unable to access their legendary spawning home,” Lind said. “Those dwindling species are cut off from eight miles of this guaranteed, prime habitat – Fish Creek. Let’s return the power to this mighty river.”
Soda Springs Dam is the farthest downstream in the system of eight dams connected by about 44 miles of canals, flumes and fore bays that compose the NorthnUmpqua Hydroelectric Prolect. The project occupies approximately 270,000 acres in the million-acre Umpqua National Forest.
Soda Springs is the only dam holding back anadromous fish from Fish Creek the fish conservationists claim would benefit from the dam’s removal.
The conservation groups, which include Umpqua Watersheds, the Audubon Society, Oregon Natural Resources Council and the Steamboaters, have made a formal request to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to begin the required environmental review process to avoid further delays and damage to the river, Lind said.
The process was delayed by FERC, the agency that issues hydro licenses, as long as settlement talks between interested parties moved forward in shaping an agreement. The only nongovernmental group involved in the talks were the conservation groups.
A third round of negotiations, without the conservation groups, started on Oct. 11 in Portland and are expected to finish by Dec.15.
The first round of negotiations collapsed after 18 months in November 1999 when PacifiCoip officials walked out over what they say was the Forest Service’s insistence that Soda Springs Dam be removed.
The second round of settlement talks ended after 120 days in September because a comprehensive agreement could not be reached. It was then that conservation groups decided to withdraw, saying any. further delays only benefit the company not the public or the river.
Conservationists also appealed to PacifiCorp officials in Portland to provide interim actions such as enlarging and improving canal covers that allow animal passage, increasing in-stream flows to the river and stopping Soda Spring’s reservoir fluctuations, which strand fish during spawning season.
Vejtasa, who has 25 years of experience in process engineering and in the economic and technical evaluation of power generation systems, highlighted the economics of the hydro project. The project, he said, produces less than 1.5 percent of annual PacifiCorp sales with Soda Springs producing only 7 percent of that output, or one-tenth of 1 percent of sales.
Replacing the power generated from removing Soda Springs could increase all of PacifiCorp’s customers’ bills by an estimated 9 cents for a $100 utility bill. With an economic value of $19 million a year, the project can easily accommodate the removal of the dam and operate by letting the river flow naturally, Vejtasa said.
“All PacifiCoip’s customers have benefited from the projects low-cost power for the last 50 years,” Vejtasa, said. “However, the environmental effects of the project, such as reduced water quality, loss of fish habitat and stranding and killing of fish have been borne by Douglas County.”
November 7, 2000