A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

The Corps plans repeat in coming years

Written November 24th, 2023 by Hasso Hering

The Santiam Canal at the 10th Avenue bridge in Albany: Still full of muddy water on Nov. 22, 2023.

Week after week of seeing the turbid waterways downstream from Green Peter Dam makes one wonder: Will they drain the reservoir again? And the answer is yes, probably.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages Willamette Basin dams according to the order of a federal judge. On its website explaining the mess below the dam (starting with thousands of dead fish), the Corps says:

“This year Green Peter is being drawn down to [elevation] 780 ft. for one month, from Nov. 15th to December 15th. Depending on the project, we expect deep drawdowns will continue in the near and/or long term as part of our long-term strategy to improve survival for juvenile spring chinook salmon and steelhead, which are both listed as threatended under the (Endangered Species Act.)”

In other words, municipal water systems depending on the South Santiam as their source can expect to be dealing with exceptionally turbid water every fall in the coming years.

Unless, that is, reason prevails.

The Linn County Board of Commissioners is trying to make reason prevail. The county reports that on Tuesday, the three board members unanimously authorized legal action to get U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez to modify his injunction concerning operation of the dams.

It was the judge’s order in a lawsuit brought by self-proclaimed environmental advocates that caused the Corps to drawn down Green Peter as deep as it did. The Corps took similar action at Lookout Point, Cougar and Fall Creek dams, which evidently accounts for the unusual turbidity in the Willamette River at Albany.

Whether Linn County’s proposed lawsuit will do any good is impossible to say. The commissioners are doing the right thing by making the attempt.

There seems to be quite a bit of scientific literature on the effect of increased water turbidity on juvenile salmonids, but the effect is not clearcut.

The drawdowns were ordered to help juvenile fish migrate through the dams on their way to the Columbia and the Pacific. What if it turns out that all that mud in the water, besides ruining the streams, harms the fish instead of helping them?

If it does, that would give the judge the incentive to change his mind. (hh)

6 responses to “The Corps plans repeat in coming years”

  1. Mark H. Avery says:

    As for/from my memory the Foster Mud Flats Mud Race Day needed to end because it was causing too muddy of water for the fish. I’m amazed that now years latter the fish have adapted to brown water for weeks on end.

  2. Scott Bruslind says:

    From the South Santiam Watershed Council (sswc.org) website:
    The Army Corps of Engineers will present their actions and answer questions.
    Location: Lebanon Senior Center
    Thursday, November 30
    Doors open at 6:30 pm, brief presentation starting at 7:00 pm
    “Maybe you heard about the drawdown at Green Peter Reservoir and have questions about why the drawdown is happening, what it means for fish and recreation, and what the next few years might hold. You might even have guessed that there aren’t neat and tidy answers to any of these questions, but you want to know more about what’s happening.

    If this describes you, please join us for a conversation with staff from the US Army Corps of Engineers.”

  3. Hartman says:

    Linn County loves to file lawsuits. Just a while back the illustrious commission attempted to sue the State because the Commission thought timber interests ought level Oregon’s forests in the name of economic prosperity for the owners and operators of said interests. In their predictable short-sightedness, the Commissioners imagined that Linn County would be better off if the clear-cutting continued, the rest of Oregon’s citizens wishes be damned.

    Now, the County is at it again, pretending to be experts on fish populations and turbidity. Yet, even Hasso maintains a bit of healthy skepticism, writing, “There seems to be quite a bit of scientific literature on the effect of increased water turbidity on juvenile salmonids, but the effect is not clearcut.”

    In an earlier paragraph, Hering opines, with no supporting data, that “It was the judge’s order in a lawsuit brought by self-proclaimed environmental advocates that caused the Corps to drawn down Green Peter as deep as it did. Apparently Hering and the County Commission know more about the issue than Hering’s unnamed “environmental advocates,” although you would never be able to know for certain if you relied on Hering’s screed. In this analysis Hering provides zero evidence to back-up his principle claim, relying on the Reader’s gullibility rather than on facts in order to convince you.

    As stated previously, the County Commission is big on bringing pointless lawsuits doomed to fail. The only real question left is why do Linn County voters continue to return this cast of clowns to their Commission seats? Their insistence on lawsuits is expensive, ineffective and out-of-step. The Commissioners are, in many ways, akin to the now-indicted 91-times, former president Trump … a man who never saw a lawsuit he didn’t love.

    • Tina says:

      My question to you, then, who are these so called environmentalists who are so knowledgeable about turbidity and the salmon in question. In your statement, you give no known names either??

    • Cap B. says:

      The reason Hasso sides with the commissioners is that the commissioners are all three conservative, right-wing Republicans. Hasso is a conservative, right-wing Libertarian.
      (An old joke: Definition of a Libertarian: A Republican in Birkenstocks…In Hasso’s case, it would be a Republican who rides a bike! )

      Also, the reason the commissioners keep getting re-elected is simple…Linn County is a Republican county.

  4. Steve says:

    Muddy water will choke and kill fish. Look at what has happened to the adult fish already killed. Salmon like clean water, remember they use the water to breath, as we do air. Think of what smoke in the air does to us when we are trying to breathe.
    This action was not researched very well, Salmon and other fish in these water ways need clean water.

    I’m very surprised that by lowering the water down that people where surprised by wells going dry. The water in the reservoirs actually helped to raise the water table. The people and towns affected by wells going dry need to compensated to get new wells.
    Unfortunately the damaged has just started and thousands of good fish are dead and that includes Salmon also.


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