Willamette Riverkeeper works to protect and restore the Willamette River's water quality and habitat. In addition to advocating for the protection of habitat, and our hands-on work to restore habitat that benefits native species, occasionally we utilize the Endangered Species Act to help protect threatened and endangered species. When the ESA is violated, entities like Willamette Riverkeeper can help enforce the law.
In 2007 WR sued the US Army Corps of Engineers (owners of major dams in the Willamette System) for failing to complete plans to reduce the impact of their dams on spring Chinook Salmon and winter Steelhead. These species had thrived in the Willamette River System for thousands of years. As a result of the dams on the Willamette tributaries including the North and South Santiam, the McKenzie and the Middle fork Willamette River's, significant numbers of juvenile fish heading downstream were killed by these dams - unable to get downstream of the dams. Further, when the adult fish would migrate hundreds of miles and make it back to their spawning grounds, the dams blocked their path. The "fish passage" options designed at these dams were typically crude at best, resulting in a significant reduction in wild salmon reproducing in high tributaries of the Willamette system.
Over many years what used to be a run of nearly 400,000 spring Chinook up the Willamette, according to historical estimates, was reduced to a few thousand naturally reproducing fish.
As a result of WR's legal action, a settlement was finalized in 2008 that requires significant improvements to fish passage at the US Army Corps dams. In addition, funds were provided over a periods of years to make improvements to habitat affected by the dams. Further, increased natural flows are also part of this effort. Unfortunately, after nearly a decade of work, the US Army Corps is far from finalizing improvements at these various dams.
At present improved fish collection facilities have been constructed on the North Santiam, and on the South Santiam. A fish weir has been designed for Foster Dam, and should be in place in 2018. Plans are also afoot to build downstream fish passage at Cougar Dam in the McKenzie System, and at Detroit Dam on the North Santiam - both projects not completed until after 2022.
WR is pushing the agencies to make improvements faster, and to dedicate the necessary funds to get the job done. Unfortunately, there has been a mindset at times time of doing the least possible to maintain the image of forward progress.
WR is calling for the downstream passage at these dams to be designed as quickly as possible, and implemented without further delays in the schedule. Each of these projects have been delayed more than once. WR will be keeping a close watch of this effort and taking part in meeting with the US Army Corps, NOAA Fisheries, and other natural resource agencies. We will utilize whatever tools available in our toolbox to get the job done at a faster pace than we have seen over the last 9 years. .