State Land Board honors Crooked River Watershed’s Opal Springs fish passage project

The Opal Springs Volitional Fish Passage project was honored Tuesday with a State Land Board Award, recognizing a longtime collaborative effort to eliminate a major fish migration barrier in the Crooked River Watershed.

“Native steelhead and salmon now have easy, safe entry to Crooked River habitat,” says Secretary of State Bev Clarno, who presented the award in a virtual ceremony. “This project marks the completion of one of Oregon’s highest priority fish passage projects.”

The project, which raised the Opal Springs dam pool height and installed a fish ladder, opens 125 miles of Crooked River habitat for native steelhead and salmon. Project partners worked together for decades to support, fundraise, and advocate for completion of the project.

Their efforts paid off. In November 2019 – just hours after completion of the fish ladder – a steelhead entered the Crooked River without human help for the first time in more than 50 years. In the months since, 28 steelhead have gained safe passage.

“We knew what needed to happen to help these fish,” says Chris Gannon, Director of the Crooked River Watershed Council. “Collaborating, staying focused and looking for the right opportunities at the right time, and coming together to raise a project, is the Oregon way. This project is an achievement for all of Oregon.”

The Deschutes Valley Water District’s collaborators also included project team Kleinschmidt Group, Otak, JACOBS and RSCI Group, and partners the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the Oregon Water Resources Department, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Trout Unlimited, Portland General Electric, Energy Trust of Oregon and Deschutes Partnership.

Finlay Anderson, who managed the project for Kleinschmidt, noted that “this effort benefited from a strong culture of collaboration and problem-solving in the Deschutes Basin by stakeholders who have been working to improve habitat and support the reintroduction of anadromous species.”

“As the project owner we have experienced firsthand the benefits of assembling a strong project management team to organize and prioritize the various stakeholder interests and support the interconnected organizational relationships over the extended duration of the project,” says Joel Gehrett, General Manager, Deschutes Valley Water District.

As a result of the efforts to provide fish passage, the Opal Springs Hydroelectric Project was able to obtain Low Impact Hydropower Institute certification, which recognizes reduction of environmental impacts.

The Land Board Awards honor exceptional projects for their contributions to protecting and enhancing Oregon’s treasured natural resources. The projects and partners honored consistently demonstrate how much can be accomplished when Oregonians work together to help our lands and waters thrive.

“So much can be accomplished when partners join to achieve a project, and the Opal Springs fish passage is a stellar example,” says Oregon Department of State Lands Director Vicki L. Walker.

Learn more about all 2020 Land Board Award winners on the awards website or view the awards ceremony on the DSL YouTube Channel.

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