Spawning salmon and steelhead can now jump and swim through a man-made passage over the Soda Springs Dam to a portion of the North Umpqua River the fish haven’t traveled for 60 years.
Construction wrapped up this month on PacifiCorp’s $60 million fish ladder, and salmon already are using it. The ladder’s completion after nearly three years of construction also concludes a 17-year debate on whether to build a fish passage or tear out the dam 60 miles east of Roseburg.
Monte Garrett, who led the project for PacifiCorp, said the fish passage balanced competing interests. The dam will continue to produce clean hydroelectricity for customers, while the ladder will enhance fish runs and protect wildlife, he said.
Removing the dam would have cost as much as the fish passage and would have raised electric rates because of the lost hydropower, Garrett said.
“Clearly, the studies showed that the best thing for the fish is to not have the
dam here, but on balance the best thing for the fish and renewable energy is to
have the dam in place but have a fish passage,” he said.
In 2003, federal regulators renewed PacifiCorp’s license to operate the Soda
Springs Dam for the next 35 years, but the utility was required to build a fish
PacifiCorp hired Douglas County contractors to build the ladder. At the peak of
construction, about 100 workers were employed. The primary contractor, Todd
Construction, started in Douglas County and now has headquarters in Portland. The other contractor, Weekly Bros. Inc., is based in Idleyld Park.
While impressed with the engineering feats that made the Soda Springs fish ladder possible, conservationists who attended a public tour of the dam this month expressed lingering skepticism.