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)