For as long as people have diverted water - for crops, livestock, industrial, domestic, and other uses - fish living in streams have been diverted with the water into fields, ditches and machinery with no chance to escape. Fish screens prevent fish mortality and injury at water diversions while still allowing the water to be delivered to its place of use. With over 81,000 surface water diversions in Oregon, a large percentage of fish will encounter a diversion at some point during their lifecycle.
Fish screen history Oregon
In Oregon, the first fish screening laws showed up over 100 years ago in 1898. From 1905 through 1946, and various other periods of time, state law required water diverters to screen diversions. The current statewide screening program began in 1947 when the Oregon State Game Commission, precursor to ODFW, embarked on an aggressive fish screening program. Through fish screen shops located in Central Point, Corvallis, John Day, and Enterprise, state funds were used to build and maintain hundreds of fish screens in Oregon. Federal mitigation from the construction of Columbia River dams was used to build and maintain almost 500 screens in the John Day Basin alone from 1952 to 1957. However, by the time the Game Commission merged with the Oregon State Fish Commission in 1975 to form ODFW, financial limitations resulted in the abandonment of most of these fish screens.
In 1991 the Oregon Legislature established a pilot cost-share program (ORS 498.306) for the construction, installation, and maintenance of fish screening devices at eligible diversions. This pilot program became permanent in 1995 and is still operating today to help water users install fish screens. In addition to the cost share program, water users may be allowed a tax credit for 50 percent of their net costs of construction (ORS 315.138).
Status of the ODFW fish screening program
Water users and fish populations continue to benefit from this program. Over 1,400 fish screens have been installed with assistance from the ODFW Cost-Share Program since its inception in 1991. New screens continue to be installed every year throughout the state protecting sensitive fish populations. Fish screen technology continues to advance, providing multiple screen options to meet challenging site conditions and provide better fish protection. The program obtains funds from a number of state, federal and private organizations to implement the Fish Screening Program. The success of this program relies on water users who volunteer to work with the department to install and operate fish screens on their diversions.
Challenges facing the fish screening program
The biggest challenge currently facing the ODFW Fish Screening Program is screen maintenance. Fish screens operate in challenging environments with components constantly under water and exposed to debris, sediment, temperature changes and other damaging factors. These elements contribute to the wear that can create holes in the screen material, gaps in the seal material, or stop the cleaning mechanism from working. This routine wear and tear can lead to fish loss at the diversion. Under statute (ORS 498.306) ODFW is responsible for major maintenance and repair of screen devices operating at sites diverting less than 30 cfs. While ODFW is not responsible for the routine inspections and minor maintenance at these sites, years of experience have shown that without frequent inspections, screens will stop operating properly resulting in fish mortality and the need for costly major maintenance and repair. Each year new screens are installed through this program, increasing the number of sites that ODFW is responsible for maintaining without adequate funding.
Fish screening cost-share program
Water users may apply for cost share funding and/or a tax credit to assist with the installation of fish screening devices, by-pass devices and fish ways. Water users may include: individual users, irrigation districts, state agencies, municipal suppliers, commercial industries, watershed councils, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and others. There are a few project types that are ineligible for this program and they include: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) projects operated solely for hydropower generation, projects associated with a water right issued since January 1. 1996, and projects with a Federal agency listed as the applicant.
Water users interested in more information on the cost-share program or in applying for cost share assistance are encouraged to contact the regional screens coordinator for their area.