Fish passage issue awaiting resolution on hydro plant project
Once the Crooked River Collaborative Water Security and Jobs Act took effect, local leaders launched efforts to build a hydroelectric power plant on Bowman Dam.
Three years into that process, they are close to clearing all of the hurdles necessary to begin construction but still need a green light from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The City of Prineville, Crook County and Ochoco Irrigation District teamed up to try and install a 3 megawatt power plant on Bowman Dam, securing a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
"We have the permit, and now we are working through all of the different processes," said City Engineer Eric Klann. "We have had the permit for two years. FERC will give you three years to get a project under way with one (two-year) extension."
Klann expects the extension will be necessary since one issue is not yet resolved. Even though project leaders have completed different environmental studies and surveys on the site, a fish passage policy needs addressed.
"ODFW (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) has a policy that whenever you do a new hydroelectric project, you have to provide (fish) passage," Klann explained. "In the best-case scenario, passage is difficult. At Bowman Dam, it's really difficult because the surface elevation of Prineville Reservoir fluctuates through the seasons."
The cost to provide fish passage would essentially be too great to move the project forward.
As an alternative to providing fish passage, project leaders are proposing that the power plant would slow or eliminate the total dissolved gas bubble problem at Bowman Dam.
"All of the energy in the water as it plunges into the pool, the gas precipitates out and it can kill the fish," Klann explained. "By putting a hydroelectric plant on it, instead of that energy just going to the atmosphere, we are pulling all of that energy out of the water."
Project leaders developed a study to back up their proposal and delivered it to ODFW.
"Right now, they are reviewing it," Klann said. "We will have to go in front of their commission to ask for a waiver. I am hoping that will happen in the next two or three months."
If the state agency approves the alternative, project leaders can move forward with the project. All other studies and surveys have already shown that the power plant is a feasible project. If ODFW rejects it, work on the hydroelectric plant will cease.
If the project can move forward, leaders will begin work on securing funding for the power plant and then ultimately move on to construction.
"There would be a lot of construction jobs associated with the project," Klann noted, and the 3 megawatts of power generated would power approximately 2,500 homes.