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

USACE reveals new outline for improving fish passage

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

Santiam Canyon residents interested in new proposals for solving fish passage and water temperature issues at Detroit Lake can hear about the plan at a public meeting Jan. 12.

The session is set for noon at the Stayton Community Center, 400 W. Virginia St.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a 2,243-page draft environmental impact statement for a program on Nov. 30. It would affect all 13 Willamette reservoirs, including Detroit Lake.

The document is undergoing a public comment period that lasts through Jan. 19. Other meetings are set for Jan. 9 in Springfield, Jan. 10 in Eugene and Jan. 11 in Sweet Home.

The Corps has been working to resolve fish passage and water temperature issues since 2008, when a National Marine Fisheries Service “biological opinion” concluded that the continued operation and maintenance of the Willamette dams “was insufficient to avoid jeopardizing the continued existence” of endangered chinook and steelhead stocks. 

The Corps is under a court order to take action to improve threatened winter steelhead and spring Chinook salmon stocks in the Willamette basin, and the new EIS is intended to be a response to the court order. 

The long-delayed and long-analyzed project is going through a bit of a reboot. Instead of Corps officials working specifically on Detroit, the new EIS reflects a broader initiative that covers the entire 13-dam system.

Earlier proposals for Detroit included consideration of building a massive tower near the dam to address the water temperature issue and a giant weir to move fish around the dam. Such structures also are part of the revised plan, but it is not clear how their use or implementation differs from previous iterations and what impact the new plan will have on the lake level.

The process is of keen interest in the Santiam Canyon because of the tourism value of Detroit Lake. If solutions to the fish passage/temperature challenges require lowering the lake level to a significant degree, the region’s economy will suffer.

The proposal is intended to improve conditions for ESA-listed fish while providing flexibility for the USACE to meet water demands for fish and wildlife, water supply, hydropower generation, and recreation. The EIS says the Corps can meet project goals by “using a combination of modified operations and structural improvements, along with other measures to balance water management flexibility and meet ESA-listed fish obligations.”

The earlier approach with the tower and the weir also was reviewed by the Corps. However, the alternative would be “the costliest alternative to implement” at more than $110 million per year, the draft report said. This high cost, the report said, “make it unlikely this alternative would be acceptable to many stakeholders, agencies and the public.” 

The Corps timeline for the preferred alternative at Detroit calls for a temperature control tower to be completed by 2031 and downstream fish passage work to be completed by 2035. No final budget or sources of funding were itemized.


  1. Greater flexibility in water management (refill, drawdown timing, etc.).
  2. Create nature-based structures that help prevent bank erosion. 
  3. Greater flexibility in hydropower production. 
  4. Increase ESA-listed fish passage survival at dams. 
  5. Improve water management during the conservation season to benefit ESA-listed fish and other project purposes. 
  6. Improve water quality to benefit ESA-listed species. 
  7. Reduce spawning and rearing habitat competition caused by hatchery fish
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