The cooperative agreement among PacifiCorp, state and federal resource agencies, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, American Rivers and the Hood River Watershed Group, was welcomed by US Governor Theodore R. Kulongoski.

‘I’d like to commend all parties to the settlement process for working together to reach common ground,’ said Governor Kulongoski. ‘Constructive, collaborative settlement talks like these are the model for how difficult natural resource issues should be handled.’

The 6MW Powerdale hydroelectric project – which was first put into operation in 1923 – is owned by PacifiCorp and can serve the needs of about 3000 typical residential customers. Powerdale’s federal operating licence expired in 2000, and rather than accepting a new licence, PacifiCorp approached parties to the licensing process to see if an alternative to a new license could be negotiated.

‘We believe this agreement is in the best interests of our customers because Powerdale will continue to operate for several more years providing low-cost power,’ said Judi Johansen, chief executive officer for PacifiCorp. ‘But at the same, time the agreement supports the long-term objectives of the resource agencies and other interest groups in the Hood river basin.’

If PacifiCorp had chosen to accept a new operating license, Powerdale’s future economic viability was doubtful. A new licence would have come with more-restrictive operating conditions, and the plant would have also required a considerable amount of new capital investment to keep it operating for the next 30 to 50 years. The company determined that it made more sense for its customers to close the plant in 2010 and use its capital resources for other more cost-effective generating sources.

The Powerdale project now has a small diversion dam with an operating fish ladder. Water is conveyed via a 4.8km long flowline to the downstream power house close by where the Hood river flows into the Columbia river.

A fish-counting station connected to the dam’s fish ladder is owned by the Bonneville Power Administration and operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs. The facility is critical to fish research that will help with salmon and steelhead recovery efforts in the basin. For this and other reasons, the agreement permits continued project operation until 2010, at which time the dam will be removed.

‘We are pleased that the parties were able to reach agreement that meets everyone’s interests,’ said David McAllister, ODFW habitat division administrator. ‘This agreement ensures restoration of the Hood river and protection of riparian habitat for fish and wildlife.’

The fish ladder, which was installed when the dam was built, continues to allow the sorting of fish at the station as well as passage of anadromous fish into the upper Hood river basin.

PacifiCorp will not be required to install new fish screens for operations through 2010. However, all other operating measures that would have been required in a new licence will be in effect until the project is decommissioned. Further, the project will be closed each year between 15 April and 30 June to ensure protection of downstream-migrating juvenile fish.

‘This agreement demonstrates that we can work together and do what is right for rivers and the fish, wildlife, and people who depend on them. We commend PacifiCorp for its leadership. The Hood river will be healthier thanks to the improved flows and fish passage,’ said Brett Swift of American Rivers.

The overall settlement also provides that PacifiCorp will transfer to an agreed-upon public entity the 188ha of land associated with the hydroelectric project, thereby protecting the natural character of the Hood river basin as it approaches the Columbia river. PacifiCorp will also provide more than US$150,000 in a trust fund to ensure future maintenance of these lands. The historic power house will remain in place, but the tower with the surge tank will be removed.

The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, which is a co-manager of the fisheries resources in the Hood river basin, also noted that the settlement reaffirms their right under the Treaty of 1855 to fish in the basin.

Meanwhile, PacifiCorp has also reached a separate settlement with licensing parties for its Condit hydroelectric project on the White Salmon river across the Columbia river from Hood river in Washington State. Through that settlement, PacifiCorp has agreed to remove Condit dam in the year 2006.