The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission on Oct. 9 denied a request by the Ochoco Irrigation District for a fish passage waiver at Bowman Dam near Prineville.

OID is proposing to construct a hydroelectric facility at the dam, which is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and operated by the district. The district would install two turbines at the earthen dam to generate 3 MW of power in concert with its water operations.

Oregon state laws require that new hydroelectric projects provide fish passage and address any other fish or wildlife concerns. The irrigators sought a waiver from the commission, but that request was not recommended by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff.

According to materials provided with the agenda, the irrigation district offered to enhance salmonid spawning habitat in the Crooked River below the dam by replenishing gravel every three years, and by reducing total dissolved gas. It also offered to spend $90,500 to help develop fish passage on Ochoco Creek, and $200,000 to restore 185 acres of riparian land.

Fish and Wildlife staff found that providing fish passage would restore about 464 miles of habitat for redband trout, 63 miles of habitat for steelhead and 57 miles of habitat for spring Chinook.

"The quantifiable information suggests that OID's mitigation would provide a benefit to approximately 3.95 miles of stream habitat for redband trout, steelhead and spring Chinook salmon," the agenda materials said. "Department staff finds that despite positive benefits realized in the Crooked River from OID's proposed mitigation package, when compared to the benefits of providing upstream fish passage at Bowman Dam, the proposed mitigation will not provide a net benefit."

Irrigators still need a preliminary permit from FERC, a water quality certification from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, a new water right, and a FERC license to construct and operate the project.

The commissioners recognized the benefits of the irrigation district's proposal, but found that additional mitigation would be necessary. They voted 5-1 against granting the waiver after hearing testimony from 28 people, both for and against the project. The vote followed the recommendations of Oregon's Fish and Wildlife staff and the Fish Passage Task Force, which both determined the proposed mitigation did not provide adequate benefits.

K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.