Confluence of concern: Parties weigh in on Detroit Dam project

August, 2018 Posted in Community

Detroit Dam-1By Mary Owen

After releasing information addressing public comments on the Detroit Dam Fish passage project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will host three
public meetings to go over the findings.

Designed to provide an overview of alternatives assessed to date to meet the project’s purpose, the meetings will be held: 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Aug. 7 at the Stayton Community Center, Aug. 22 at the Gates Fire Hall, and Aug. 23 at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission in Salem.

“We haven’t heard anything new,” said Detroit Mayor Jim Trett. “We’re all waiting for the meetings to find out the latest status. We’ll see what the Corps is developing and how it affects us.”

Trett said many have given input on the project and will continue to do so. Many are concerned about the long-term fallout for businesses and recreational entities if the lake is drained for the project, he said.

“I’ve read the recent analysis and appreciate the effort the Corps made to respond to questions, concerns and suggestions,” said Allison McKenzie, executive director of GROW-EDC. “But in my view, some of the biggest concerns that residents, communities and business owners have, including those from GROW, will likely be better addressed at the upcoming public meetings in August. The big questions are still on the table.”

The Corps operates and maintains 13 multipurpose dams and reservoirs in the Willamette River Basin, including Detroit Dam and Lake. The Detroit project proposes to provide downstream juvenile fish passage for Upper Willamette River Chinook and temperature control at Detroit Dam, and has received mixed reviews.

Following a 60-day period of public comments collected from November to January, USACE determined 33 topics of concern, including water supply, agricultural and reservoir fisheries impacts.Screen Shot 2018-08-01 at 2.27.21 PM

Following a stakeholder meeting in Stayton in May, Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-05), along with senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), notified the Corps by letter, calling for a re-evaluation of the project. They raised serious concerns about the potential impact the project could have on Salem’s water supply and on communities throughout the Santiam Canyon.

In the letter, they urged USACE to work with Salem and Stayton, Turner and Gates in identifying and putting a solution in place regarding the effect on drinking water prior to any construction.

Additionally, Schrader, Wyden and Merkley asked USACE that all stakeholders throughout the region – including tribal interests, cities, businesses, agricultural interests, conservationists, recreations users, anglers, and municipalities – to be given accurate and timely information from USACE

“All three current construction alternatives proposed for a temperature tower requiring drawdown of the Detroit Reservoir have significant impacts throughout the Santiam Canyon and beyond,” they wrote. “We have serious concerns that the scoping document scheduled for release shortly will be incomplete because the time allowed was too short to fully analyze impacts and prepare appropriately based on the limited information provided and outreach done.”

McKenzie cited the recent algae bloom at Detroit Lake and water advisory in Salem and several Santiam Canyon cities, including Stayton, as “a big, bright spotlight on the downstream issues impacting water quality that we’ve all been talking about where the proposed fish tower construction is concerned.”

“With 192,000 water users, Salem is particularly concerned,” McKenzie said. “Which is good news for us, too. Our interests are definitely aligned where maintaining water health is concerned.”

On July 2, the city of Salem filed a motion to intervene on behalf of USACE in a lawsuit by Northwest Environmental Defense Center, WildEarth Guardians and Native Fish Society against the Corps. The lawsuit against the Corps seeks to force the temperature control tower part of the project at Detroit Dam to accelerate without giving Salem and other affected jurisdictions an opportunity to have their concerns addressed.

“We must protect Salem’s access to water, and we must be allowed to be part of any discussion that affects our water supply,” Mayor Chuck Bennett said. “If we are not allowed to intervene in the lawsuit against them, and have our voice heard, drinking water access for Salem area families and businesses will likely be ignored.”

“The Corps’ proposal to construct a water temperature control structure at Detroit Dam and drain Detroit Lake in the process is not a done deal,” according to the motion to intervene filed recently with the U.S. District Court in Portland.

“The project proposed has real impact on the quantity of water available to us,” Bennett said. “If the Corps makes a bad call on when to drain the lake, they can cut our water off.

“If they go into that lake, they’ll be churning up some problematic silt,” he added about residue from mining and industrial operations. “They can really cause us problems in water quality. The reality is this is our water supply.”

Bennett said the city has no alternative water sources, and wells would not offer enough water to serve Salem.

“We are going to be looking at the Willamette River, but that today is about a quarter of a million dollar project,” he said. “About 7 percent of businesses in Salem rely on water. That’s a lot of potential economic impact.

“We’re very, very nervous about the Corps,” he added. “We’re not going to sit back as a city and just let this happen. We’re going to be looking at other legal action as a city. We will stay involved.”

Marion County told Our Town, “The Board of Commissioners is committed to ensuring a safe and consistent water supply from Detroit Lake. At this time, the board has directed county counsel to protect county interests in on-going litigation. We will have more information at a later date.”

The Detroit Dam project came on the heels of a listing of several species under the Endangered Species Act that required the Corps to perform an assessment of the Willamette Project and its operations’ impact on listed species. Based on this assessment, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) identified actions to avoid jeopardizing the existence of ESA-listed fish in the Willamette basin, including the downstream fish passage at Detroit Dam. NOAA Fisheries also scoped the minimization of water quality effects, temperature associated with operations of Detroit and Big Cliff dams, by making structure modifications or major operational changes.

The Corps estimates issuing a draft of the Environmental Impact Study  in 2019. For more, visit

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