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Record Low Water Levels at Reservoir

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LOWELL, Ore. — Winter time is when reservoir levels are dropped to accommodate spring runoff. But at Fall Creek Reservoir, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is trying something new.

Fall Creek Reservoir is one of 13 dams the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulates in the Willamette Valley.

Greg Taylor, a USACE fisheries biologist, took us across to get us a better view of how low the water level is.

“In February, we start to refill, so we’ll be letting out less water than what’s coming,” Taylor said.

Taylor says it’s a balancing act. Winter and spring engineers make sure there’s enough room to accommodate runoff. In summer, they regulate and augment flow to maintain water quality. They also monitor the ecosystem and the fish.

When the dam was built back in the ’60s, engineers installed the fish horns for fish to pass through, but they never worked as planned. It had a high mortality associated with it. Two years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers tried a different approach, taking the water down to historic lows.

National Marine Fisheries Service and Sanctuary Video Production & Design produced a time lapse video of the full draw down (click above to watch). For about three days in December water flowed much like it did before the dam, in the actual stream bed.

Taylor is in charge of monitoring fish that pass through the gate. His team check on 600 tagged juvenile salmon. All 600 passed through the gate. The fish that passed through at normal winter levels, the survival rate came in at 80 percent.

When the water was at its lowest, it increased to 97.5 percent, almost a 20-percent improvement.

Some residents voiced concern about what the reservoir looked like. Another issue, sediment deposited down stream. Taylor says the sediment levels are lower this year than last year. He expects if the winter draw down continues, the water quality continue to improve. Most importantly, this alternative approach is helping the fish survive.

“This is an alternative that we’ve come up with that is something we can do. It’s not costly, and it’s working well for the fish,” Taylor said.

2 comments

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  1. J says:

    Before the dams went in, we used to go up and watch the salmon jump the falls at Salmon Creek Falls as they headed upstream to spawn. That was a long time ago. After the dams, nothing. People don’t even realize all the homesteads that were taken out to make room for those dams, all the families forced to leave.

    1. Ozlanthos says:

      Believe it or not, if they do this project “RIGHT”, we could see runs coming out of and going into Fall Creek that will DWARF anything Fall Creek was able to produce prior to the construction of the dams. One of the reasons Fall Creek was selected for building a flood control dam was the fact that it produced relatively small runs of Chinook and Steelhead. I attribute that mostly to the loss of the beavers that were building dams up there, and the fact that they didn’t actually start monitoring runs until decades after they’d cleaned out the beavers.

      Note that I did say “right”. We are talking about government, and their track record shows that in the past they have proven again and again that they are fully capable of making the “wrong” decisions, even after being provided all of the crucial information for advising their actions.

      Fingers crossed!!!

      -Oz

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