Giving nature a jolt

Giving nature a jolt
PacifiCorp plants on Link River to be decommissioned

Herald & News

March 2, 2014

Endangered Lost River and shortnose sucker may experience a boost in populations after two hydroelectric facilities on the Link River are decommissioned this month.

The facilities, the West Side and East Side powerhouses, are owned by PacifiCorp, the parent corporation of Pacific Power. In November, PacifiCorp submitted a habitat conservation plan to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) outlining how decommissioning the plants will affect endangered Lost River and shortnose sucker and methods for conserving the fish in the Klamath Basin.

Both species were classified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1988.

In late February, the USFWS issued a permit granting PacifiCorp to make changes to the Link River facilities.
According to Matt Baun, a USFWS spokesman, decommissioning the operations will allow PacifiCorp to reduce the incidental take of Lost River and shortnose sucker by 90 percent.

The facilities are scheduled to be off-line by March 21, according to the conservation plan.

Bob Gravely, a spokesman for PacifiCorp, said decommissioning the facilities will have little impact on PacifiCorp’s ability to meet the region’s power needs. He added that the changes will not cause an increase in power rates because the plants’ combined hydroelectric capacity contributes only 2 percent (3.8 megawatts) to the entire Klamath Hydroelectric Project.

“The rates are set by the state of Oregon. The existence of such a small amount of generation will have no impact on the rate Pacific Power is able to provide in Oregon,” he said.

Gravely explained that the facilities’ ages — both were built in the early 1900s — and the cost of upgrades to meet new environmental standards were factors in the decision to decommission the plants. He said the East Side facility hasn’t been used regularly in at least one year because of severe leaks in the water pipe that moves the water to the powerhouse.

Along the Link River

Under the terms of the take permit, PacifiCorp will significantly decrease operations at the Link River hydroelectric powerhouses located near the mouth of Lake Ewauna.

Water for the plants is diverted from the Link River Dam, which was completed in 1921. An improved fish ladder to keep sucker from entering the spillways was completed in 2005, and since 2003, fish have been prevented from entering the A Canal diversion by a fish screen.

The A Canal begins with a 3,300-foot tunnel from the Link River that moves water for irrigation from Upper Klamath Lake to approximately 63,000 acres of farmland.

According to BOR acting area manager Don Bader, screen monitoring has indicated that fish larger than 30 mm, which are juveniles just a few months old, are prevented from entering the canal.

“Some newer research has indicated the screen is preventing even smaller fish from entering,” said Ron Larson, a USFWS fish biologist.

According to Gravely, neither PacifiCorp plant has a fish screen, which is required by the state and also by the ESA regulations protecting the endangered fish.

“The cost of putting those in is simply not worth it considering how much power the East Side and West Side generate,” he said. “There’s really no scenario we’ve envisioned that would have these two powerhouses in commission beyond 2020.”

The facilities were originally proposed to be decommissioned by PacifiCorp under its 2004 license application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Sucker reproduction

USFWS spokesman Baun explained one reason the species are on verge of extinction is because juveniles are no longer surviving long enough to reproduce. Over the last decade the Lost River sucker population has reduced by 40 percent and the shortnose has reduced by 75 percent.

According to the conservation plan, the USFWS estimates 39,590 sucker are killed by powerhouse turbine, spillway and flow-line operations each year.

The report also stated that species harassment — defined as actions that create the likelihood of injury or disrupt normal behavior patterns — affects almost 2 million sucker each year, most of which are larvae.

“Since 1990, only one cohort has made it to adulthood. The recruitment rate is effectively zero,” he said. “This means none are surviving long enough for reproduction.”

Both species must survive for at least four years before a chance to sexually reproduce exists. According to Larson, some Lost River sucker may not reach sexual maturity until seven years.

“In some cases it’s an advantage for an animal to have a multi-year life cycle. These fish are slow in reproducing. That’s a disadvantage if you want to build a population up quickly,” he said.

Future of the structures

PacifiCorp Spokesman Gravely said for now, the corporation only plans to discontinue operations at the facilities. He could not comment whether they will later be removed altogether.

Gravely said he expects some limited operations occurring to maintain the facilities.

As part of the conservation plan, PacifiCorp also will donate $100,000 to a Sucker Conservation Fund. Recommendations for projects funded by the Sucker Conservation Fund will be made by the USFWS Klamath Sucker Recovery Program.

Gravely said the donation is a fair trade-off to gain the permits PacifiCorp needs to continue hydroelectric operations in an area with sensitive species protected by the ESA. The waiver and the conservation plan also are intended to offset impacts caused by the operation.

Under the USFWS take permit, PacifiCorp will continue operating its other Klamath River facilities, which consist of Keno, J.C. Boyle, Copco 1 and 2 and Iron Gate dams. Although these facilities are believed to have little impact on sucker species because of their distance from Upper Klamath Lake. Four have been proposed for removal as part of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, which are intended to mitigate water issues among Basin water stakeholders.

Similar to shutting down the East Side and West Side facilities, PacifiCorp supports removing the dams because taking them out is less expensive than upgrading to meet current regulations, meaning lower costs can be maintained for customers.

“If we weren’t removing the dams we would be relicensing them, which would be more expensive,” he said.