News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Summit reviews water issues

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

Nearly 70 stakeholders and other individuals participated in an Oct. 24  summit meeting on the North Santiam River and its watershed.

The meeting, the 12th that has been conducted, was held at the Marion County Public Works compound, with dozens more individuals participating via Zoom.

The 4-hour session featured a virtual alphabet soup of agencies and linguistic shortcuts, with a slightly greater emphasis on looking back than peering forward.

Here are some highlights of the fast-paced session:

Detroit Lake

“We had a pretty good water year at Detroit. Conditions were close to ideal,” said Erik Petersen, operations project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), who added ”we got lucky, didn’t we?”

The only drawdown of the season was for the 5 feet required by concerns about dam spillgate challenges, and late season rain and snow in spring and summer offset what started out as a very dry fall.

The Corps still is under a court order to decrease water temperature and improve fish passage at Detroit to ease the pressure on endangered salmon and steelhead stocks. 

Petersen noted that a new biological opinion is due by the end of 2024. A committee is being formed to help frame the opinion. It will include two representatives of the lawsuit plaintiffs, two National Marine Fisheries Service biologists, two people from the USACE and two ad hoc federal experts.

A draft environmental impact statement (EIS) already has passed 3,000 pages, Petersen said, with a virtual meeting to unveil it set for December. A 50-day public comment period will follow, although Petersen cautioned Santiam Canyon stakeholders by noting “we’re not looking for comments like ‘you should keep Detroit reservoir full all year-round.’ That won’t help us.”

Canyon businesses and elected officials were extremely vocal in the 2017-19 period when earlier Corps proposals called for perhaps one year or two years of virtually emptying the lake.

Petersen added that a 50-day comment period means “the timing is tough, particularly since it includes the holidays. But that’s the reality of meeting the deadlines imposed by the court.”

Petersen added that the multiyear process to rehabilitate the six spillway gates at Detroit Dam has been concluded, although an evaluation study that will focus on seismic risk reduction is due in the spring of 2023. The work was needed, Corps officials said,  “to restore functionality and provide the authorized flood risk reduction capabilities to the reservoir.”

Kurt Carpenter, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), discussed water quality in the lake, and there was more good news there. The lower amount of sunshine, abundant clouds and record rainfall led to lower counts of harmful algae blooms (HABs) in the lake this past season. 


Scott Oviatt of the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, gave the weather report. The 2021-22 weather year, which ended Sept. 30, was well above the 1991-2020 median. The numbers received a big boost, Oviatt said, from low-elevation rain and high-elevation snow from April through July.

Key monitoring stations of Marion Forks at 2,590 feet, Daly Lake at 3,690 and Little Meadows at 4,020 feet, all received at least 81 inches of snow, with Little Meadows’ count of 124 inches representing 106 percent of that 1991-2020 median.

Even with virtually no rainfall from July 8 through Oct. 19, Oviatt noted that the Willamette Valley is at 56 percent of normal for the 2022-23 rainfall year, just on the rainfall that has hit in the past week. That includes 2 inches at both Marion Forks and Daly Lake and more than 3 inches at Little Meadows.

The NASA drought map of Oct. 17 showed Oregon in “extreme drought.” 

“Alarm bells were ringing until those recent rains,” Oviatt said.   

Wildfire recovery

The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), represented by Astrea Strawn, reforestation program project coordinator, noted that the ODF had replanted 1.64 conifer seedlings this year, with 1 million more in the pipeline. The department also has engaged in aerial seeding, riparian plantings, cleaned up trails and replaced fire-damaged culverts.

Next year the ODF will be seeking an Oregon Water Enhancement Board grant for monthly seedling projects in public forests as well as work that will assist water service in Detroit. The ODF also said it will be providing technical assistance, regulatory aid and surplus seedling donations for private forests, noting that 43,000 trees were planted this year by volunteers with the Santiam Canyon Long Term Recovery Group (SCLTRG).

Botanist Charity Glade and hydrologist Jonas Parker offered a similar report from the Bureau of Land Management. In 2021 the BLM spent $776,000 on “storm patrol” work on culverts and ditches, $277K on safety, $165K on storm prep, $142K battling noxious weeds, $106K on stream repairs and $48K on hazard trees. Similar program offerings are expected to result on $850K in spending this year and more than $500K next year

North Santiam Sewer Authority

Brian Nicholas, director of Public Works for Marion County, offered an update on the Canyon sewer project. 

The North Santiam Sewer Authority, a joint venture of the county and the towns of Mill City, Gates, Detroit and Idanha, aims to add sewer infrastructure in two phases. They will start in Gates and Mill City because Mill City has an existing system. Phase 2 will include Detroit and Idanha.

Most of the funding already is in place for Mill City and Gates, but Phase 2 needs another $60M, said Nicholas.

“We don’t know where the additional funding will come from,” he said. “We are hoping that the Legislature will be kind and we also are looking at grant funding. Right now our focus is to get the project bid-ready. That’s the heavy lifting.”

Estimated completion dates for 2026-27 for Mill City/Gates and 2027-28 for Detroit/Idanha.

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