Under an agreement, hydro firm would install fish screens to aid smolts going downstream
By Mark Freeman
APPLEGATE — A Utah firm is close to winning authority to retrofit Applegate Dam with hydropower turbines under an agreement that would restore wild steelhead spawning to 35 miles of creeks upstream of the dam.
After seven years of applications and studies, the company Symbiotics expects to soon receive a federal license to add two turbines for producing 10 megawatts of electricity using water the dam releases into the Applegate River.
As part of that license, Symbiotics would add $4 million worth of fish screens that would allow protection to downstream migration of steelhead smolts.
That would pave the way for wild steelhead now trapped at the dam’s base for spawning at Cole Rivers Hatchery on the upper Rogue River to be trucked upstream from Applegate Lake and released in Carberry Creek and other streams that feed the reservoir.
The effort could reseed at least 35 miles of wild steelhead spawning area thought to be lost to the Rogue River basin when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed Applegate Dam in 1980, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“The upside is just too good to pass up,” said Dan VanDyke, the ODFW’s Rogue District fish biologist. “You just don’t find this in a whole lot of places in the state.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is awaiting a formal biological opinion on the proposal from the National Marine Fisheries Service before ruling on the license, said Eric Steimle, Symbiotics’ director of environmental compliance in Portland.
The biological opinion is expected this week, and a FERC decision on the license is expected within three months, Steimle said.
If the license is issued as expected, construction on the $19 million project would begin in 2010, he said.
Steimle offered no projections on how long it would take for the project to pay for itself.
There is no timetable for the steelhead re-introduction, which likely would be publicly vetted during the drafting of a management plan governing steelhead management throughout the Rogue River basin, VanDyke said.
Since 2001, Symbiotics has been looking at Applegate Dam and dozens of others throughout Oregon as candidates for hydropower retrofits.
The electricity it generates here would be delivered to the power grid through a series of underground and above-ground wires to a substation at Ruch.
The dam currently passes water through an outlet at the base. To generate power, that outlet would be lined with a steel pipe that would funnel water into two penstocks fitted with turbines.
The diversion to the turbines would be fitted with screens to keep downstream-migrating juvenile steelhead away from them, funneling them through the dam and into the current “stilling basin,” where the water is pooled and slowed before eventual release into the river, said David Harris, the ODFW’s southwest regional hydropower coordinator.
“The screen system is going to be pretty complicated, but that’s typical,” Harris said.
The screens are estimated to cost about $4 million.
When the Corps built the dam, it also built a fish trap to collect broodstock for Applegate winter steelhead production at Cole Rivers Hatchery on the upper Rogue.
In past years, some of those excess winter steelhead have been trucked around the dam and released into the reservoir, largely for anglers to catch.
By using trapped wild steelhead to seed above-the-dam tributaries, Symbiotics’ studies suggest that as many as 2,000 extra adult winter steelhead would return to the Applegate. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study before the 1962 congressional authorization of the Rogue Basin dams estimated that 850 winter steelhead spawned upstream of the current reservoir. Another 1,150 adult steelhead spawned annually within the area now inundated by the reservoir.
Since fisheries enhancement is a primary purpose of the dam’s operation, any hydropower operations cannot harm downstream fish or their habitat.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.