After spending the last 10 years developing fish passage facilities to allow adult and juvenile salmon and steelhead to bypass its three dams on the Lewis River, PacifiCorp is planning to spend the next 10 restoring habitat where returning fish can spawn and their juveniles can thrive.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a preliminary decision on Aug. 12 under which PacifiCorp would spend more than $20 million in the next decade on projects to create and improve spawning beds, protect or improve riparian areas that are important sources of food and shade, and create refuge where juvenile fish can grow.

Much of the work is expected to occur upstream from PacifiCorp's Swift Dam No. 1, where fish passage work has opened more than 100 miles of habitat that had been blocked since the dams were built. Some of the habitat work could also occur below Merwin Dam--the lowest of the three--or in the lower Columbia River where the Lewis River flows, PacifiCorp spokesman Tom Gauntt told NW Fishletter.

In 2008, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a new 50-year license to operate the three dams--Merwin, Yale and Swift No. 1--which have a combined total capacity of 510 MW. That license included more than $100 million in fish passage investments at Swift and Merwin dams. It includes facilities at Merwin Dam to trap adult salmon and steelhead, and use trucks to haul them above Swift No. 1, where they are released, Gauntt said. Juveniles are later trapped in the reservoir above Swift Dam, transported by truck and released below the three dams, he said.

Following environmental studies to determine the appropriate next steps for salmon and steelhead in the Lewis River, the decision by federal agencies indicates that PacifiCorp should develop a plan to implement habitat improvements in the Lewis River instead of installing additional fish passage facilities into Merwin Reservoir, a PacifiCorp news release said. The agencies will later consider whether to require additional fish passage facilities into the Yale Reservoir, it said.

Once PacifiCorp develops a plan for habitat improvements, NMFS and USFWS will be asked to approve it before it is sent to FERC for consideration. PacifiCorp will then establish a process with stakeholders to help prioritize the work to be done.

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.