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Denial puts future of Bowman Dam project, spearheaded by Ochoco Irrigation District and city of Prineville, in serious doubt

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - A hydro power project proposed for Bowman Dam is in jeopardy of not moving forward.

A proposed hydroelectric power plant proposal on Bowman Dam took a major hit earlier this month as Oregon's Fish and Wildlife Commission denied a fish passage waiver.

The waiver request was made by the Ochoco Irrigation District, which has joined the City of Prineville in an effort to install a power plant on the dam. 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 been trying to get approval to build a 3-megawatt plant on the dam. The project cleared most hurdles, but still needed to account for the affect the dam will have on fish passage along the river.

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

A project benefit summary put together by city officials highlighted 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 valves 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 were planning passive gravel augmentation downstream from the dam, which was expected to improve spawning habitat for several fish species. Also, OID would fund $200,000 in habitat restoration at Ochoco Preserve, and fund implementation of a passage project at Prineville Golf Club in Ochoco Creek.

In their deliberations, commissioners recognized the benefits of the proposed mitigation package, however, they decided additional mitigation measures are necessary. The Commission chose to not approve the waiver – in keeping with an earlier recommendation of the Fish Passage Task Force and ODFW staff – because OID's proposed mitigation does not provide adequate benefit.

The denial has not completely killed the proposed hydro project, but it does leave its future in serious doubt.

"Essentially, we don't have any other pathway to 'yes' identified yet," said OID Manager Bruce Scanlon. "Without a fish passage waiver, the project is stalled at best."

He went on to say that project leaders could come at the fish passage issue in a different way, but at this point, they aren't sure what that other approach would entail.

"We have not quit on the process. We will continue to engage with ODFW in search of a way," Scanlon said, "but it appears we are quite a ways apart on several of the issues around the interpretation of the statute and some of the assessments that have gone into the net benefit analysis."

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