Washington utilities, Bonneville, sign agreement to improve fish runs in the Cowlitz River
Originally published July 9, 2014
Two utilities in Washington state — Tacoma Power and the Lewis County Public Utility District — have signed a long-term agreement with the Bonneville Power Administration that is expected to improve natural fish runs in the Cowlitz River. At the same time, Tacoma Power and Lewis County PUD have formalized an agreement to work cooperatively when the time comes to seek re-licensing from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for their respective dams in the Cowlitz River basin.
"This agreement is the foundation for improving downstream fish collection on the Cowlitz River," said Tacoma Power Superintendent Ted Coates. "All three signatories are committed to a new era of cooperation and mutual support."
The agreement allows Tacoma Power to take ownership of existing BPA-owned fish collection facilities at Lewis County PUD’s Cowlitz Falls Dam and to install, operate, and maintain improved fish collection structures at the dam. The upgraded facilities are expected to attract more juvenile Chinook and Coho salmon, as well as steelhead trout, as the fish migrate downstream. The fish will be collected, trucked around the dams, then released to continue their trip to the ocean.
The improvements are part of Tacoma Power’s 2002 FERC license for operating the Mayfield and Mossyrock dams downstream of the Cowlitz Falls Dam. The license calls for Tacoma Power to improve downstream fish collection and survival from the upper Cowlitz River basin.
Lewis County PUD completed the Cowlitz Falls Dam in 1994. Under an agreement with Bonneville, the PUD provides all of the dam’s power (29.7 annual average megawatts) to the federal power marketing agency at the cost of production. BPA pays the operations and maintenance costs at the facility.
In 1996, BPA built juvenile fish collection facilities at the dam. The Cowlitz Falls Fish Facility collects about half the migrating juvenile fish from the Upper Cowlitz River Basin and trucks them down to Barrier Dam just below Tacoma Power’s Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery. The fish are deposited in ponds at the hatchery and, after a brief recovery period, they are returned to the river.
Adult fish returning to the Cowlitz River are collected below Tacoma’s dams and transported to the Tilton River above the Mayfield Dam or to the Cowlitz and Cispus rivers above the Cowlitz Falls Dam.
Under the new agreement, Tacoma Power will a construct new fish collector, to be operated in tandem with the existing facilities, at an estimated cost of $30 million. Extensive fish evaluations and modeling have helped identify that an adaptable shore-based fish collector on the North shore of Cowlitz Falls Dam will work best to meet Tacoma’s fish collection goals; it is expected to significantly increase the number of juvenile fish collected and safely transported past the dams. BPA will provide funding through June 2032 to partially offset Tacoma’s cost to operate the existing facility. The new agreement also transfers the BPA-owned ponds and related equipment at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery to Tacoma Power.
"All of us that own and operate hydro projects know that we have an obligation to put resources back in the river," said Lewis County PUD Manager Bob Geddes. "This new agreement gives us a chance to do that collectively and it also puts us in a good position for the future when the project is up for relicensing."
Pending FERC approval, the key elements of the new agreement will go into effect on Oct. 1. Construction is slated to begin in early 2015, with a goal of starting fish collection in 2017.
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