PORTLAND, Ore. — Under the terms of preliminary decisions issued today by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), PacifiCorp will commit more than $20 million over the next decade to improve salmon and steelhead habitat in the Lewis River watershed.
“These decisions which are based on extensive scientific studies will have significant and long-lasting benefits for salmon and steelhead that call the Lewis River drainage home,” said Mark Sturtevant, managing director, PacifiCorp Renewable Resources. “Conserving fish habitat and enhancing fish populations in the Pacific Northwest is important to our communities. Our mission is to conserve this fish habitat and enhance salmon and steelhead populations while producing the low-cost, emission-free electricity our customers count on and care about.”
The decisions from NMFS and USFWS come 10 years after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a 50-year federal license to operate the Lewis River Hydroelectric project, which generates enough electricity to supply about 300,000 average Northwest homes annually. The license resulted in more than $100 million in fish passage investments at Swift and Merwin dams by PacifiCorp, all dedicated to opening up more than 100 miles of historic salmon and steelhead habitat upstream of Swift dam.
In 2012, PacifiCorp and other parties commenced environmental studies to determine appropriate next steps to conserve salmon and steelhead in the Lewis River. With today’s preliminary decisions, the federal agencies have indicated that PacifiCorp should develop a plan to implement habitat improvements in the Lewis River basin in lieu of installing additional fish passage facilities into Merwin Reservoir. The agencies will review and approve these plans prior to their implementation. The agencies will consider whether to require additional fish passage facilities into Yale Reservoir in the future.
The agencies notified PacifiCorp and other parties through letters sent to the parties on April 12, 2019, that habitat improvements in the Lewis River, in combination with the existing successful fish passage facilities already in operation, should proceed. PacifiCorp and the agencies will monitor and evaluate habitat improvements over the coming decade to determine the best course of action for the Yale reservoir area.
These additional investments in habitat conservation will include habitat restoration projects such as creating and improving spawning beds; creating refuge for juvenile fish to grow and mature; and improving and protecting riparian areas that generate food and provide shade.
PacifiCorp will develop a plan to implement required habitat improvements that will be reviewed and approved by the agencies. PacifiCorp will then submit this plan to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for its consideration. After final decisions are issued by the federal agencies on the plan, PacifiCorp will establish a process with local stakeholders to identify and select projects in conjunction with the federal agencies.
“Environmental stewardship is one of PacifiCorp’s highest values,” said Sturtevant. “Working under this decision will allow us to continue making the kind of strategic investments that mean so much to the ecosystems we value and the communities we serve.”