WALLOWA LAKE – Piggy-backed onto a trip by state senator Jackie Dingfelder of Portland into Wallowa County to get a front-row look at issues ranchers face in regards to wolves was a look at Wallowa Lake Dam during a mini-snowstorm Sunday morning.
The dam visitation was made by about 30 people including local, state and tribal agency representatives, and hosted by officers of the Associated Ditch Company.
Among the many officals present were state senator Bill Hansell of Athena; Phil Ward, director of Oregon Water Resources Department; Dave Johnson, Nez Perce Fisheries Program manager; Bruce Eddy, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife northeast region manager; and Wallowa County commissioners Mike Hayward and Susan Roberts.
A brief overview of the status of planned dam rehabilitation was given by project manager David Hockett.
“This is not a large dam, but I can tell you it is an economic engine for Wallowa County,” Hockett said. He pointed to water storage for irrigation, as well as benefits to stream flows, fish and public safety.
He noted that the farmers of the valley joined together as the Associated Ditch Companies to build the dam over 90 years ago, and while the dam is in need of rehabilitation, it is inspected by the state every year. At present it stores only 72 percent of water authorized because of safety concerns. When rehabilitated – and Hockett said at this point that means replacement of the dam in its current footprint – the dam would be able to store all of its already authorized water, to the benefit of the entire region.
“We’re willing to share the water downstream,” Hockett said.
Hockett said that ADC has been working for over 15 years on finding a way to fix the dam, and put the present price at $15 million. “We are in the third quarter of the football game,” Hockett said about where ADC is now in the funding process.
In response to questions about possible reintroduction of sockeye salmon to Wallowa Lake, including one from Sen. Dingfelder, Hockett said the new dam structure “would anticipate fish passage,” whether by trap and haul or a fish ladder, but the present price tag does not include a fish ladder.
He said the farmers of ADC look to “our friends at Nez Perce Fisheries” and other fish experts for solutions to the reintroduction issue. “The farmers in the valley would like to see it happen,” he said. “We’ve always said we want the fish people to deal with the fish.”
While Hockett did not talk about specifics of funding negotiations or pieces of the “jigsaw puzzle” he said the ADC is trying to put together in the dam rehabilitation project, he did say he is optimistic that after longer than a decade, “the train is about to leave the station.”