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Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife public comment period concludes this week

City of Prineville and Ochoco Irrigation District leaders should soon know whether or not plans for a hydroelectric power plant on Bowman Dam can move forward.

The public comment period for a fish passage waiver application with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife concluded Monday and this Friday, local officials will attend a fish passage task force meeting. That group acts as an advisory group that will recommend whether or not to pursue final approval of waiver from the ODFW commission.

Since passage of the Crooked River Collaborative Water Security and Jobs Act paved the way for hydropower generation on Bowman Dam, city and OID officials have trying to get approval to build a 3-megawatt plant on the dam.

The project has cleared most hurdles, but still needs to account for the affect the dam will have on fish passage along the river.

"Since there is an artificial barrier in the river, whenever we do some work on that, ODFW, by statute, requires that we provide for passage for native migratory fish," explained Mike Kasberger, the city's assistant engineer.

He points that the revenue generated from the plant, through a power purchase agreement, would not be enough to fund structural changes to the project that would satisfy fish passage guidelines. So, project leaders have instead sought a fish passage waiver, which requires them to identify projects that mitigate the negative effects the hydro plant would have on the migratory fish.

A project benefit summary highlights several proposed projects to improve fish habitat as well as other environmental benefits from the presence of a hydropower project. The summary points out that the project would improve water quality by replacing current outlet works with new vales that will alter the angle of released water and reduce total dissolved gas saturation. Total dissolved gas can cause gas bubble disease in fish and lead to their injury or death.

The project would also include modifications that would improve the control of flow releases from the dam, the summary noted, and provide another source of renewable energy in the area.

In addition to the hydro plant, city and irrigation district leaders are planning passive gravel augmentation downstream from the dam, which is expected to improve spawning habitat for several fish species. Also, OID will fund $200,000 in habitat restoration at Ochoco Preserve, and fund implementation of a passage project at Prineville Golf Club in Ochoco Creek.

"We don't see any negatives to this project," Kasberger said. "The benefits from the project are great."

He even went so far as to characterize the effort as more of a conservation project than a hydropower one.

Assuming the advisory group recommends moving forward with the waiver, the application is expected to come before the commission in August. If the group advises against pursuing the waiver, work on the project becomes too cost prohibitive and likely comes to an end.


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