Wednesday December 27, 2023

Salem Reporter

The Army Corps of Engineers is refilling two Willamette River basin reservoirs that the agency had temporarily drained to historic lows to help fish, but the drawdowns washed mud downstream, threatening drinking water sources.

The deluge of sediment spurred a wave of accusations from Willamette Valley residents and some Republican officials that the corps polluted rivers and possibly killed fish by draining Green Peter and Lookout Point reservoirs so low – achieving the opposite of its intention to help young salmon move down river through the dams. However, the corps and conservationists expect the rivers to run clear again as the agency ends the drawdowns this month, as planned, and begins refilling the reservoirs to protect communities from winter floods. 

Corps officials say it’s too soon to say whether opening the dams and letting the reservoir water drain through achieved the mission of helping young Chinook salmon and steelhead journey to the Pacific Ocean. A federal judge in 2021 ordered the corps to experiment with drawdowns as part of recovery plans for endangered salmon. There is evidence that similar operations at Oregon dams boosted salmon populations. 

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