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Project Highlight

Opal SpringsThe Opal Springs Hydroelectric Project (OSHP) is a 28.5' earthen-fill dam that was authorized in 1982 and commissioned in 1985. Salmon and steelhead were extirpated from the Upper Deschutes basin with the construction of the Pelton Round Butte Project (PRB Project) in the 1960s.Therefore, fish passage at OSHP was neither required nor provided at the time of licensing, as it is located upstream of the Pelton Round Butte complex. Instead, Article 36 requires the licensee to discharge a continuous flow of 50 cfs from the dam. In 2007, salmon and steelhead were reintroduced in the Upper Deschutes Basin, upstream of the Pelton Round Butte Project. For the first time since the 1960's, adult salmon and steelhead returned to the Upper Deschutes basin in late 2011. Reintroduction effort(s) was the result of the completion of upstream and downstream passage facilities at the Pelton Project. The reintroduced fish are repopulating three major tributaries to the Deschutes River – these include the Upper Deschutes River, the Metolius River, and the Crooked River. The Opal Springs Hydro Dam, located at the lower end of the Crooked River, is a passage barrier into this system, a very important tributary, which would otherwise provide significant spawning, rearing, and foraging habitat for these anadromous species. Bull trout, a federally listed species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) are also present below the Opal Springs Project, which is considered critical habitat under the ESA.

To address the issue of fish passage at Opal Springs, the owner (DVWD) entered into a Settlement Agreement with fishery agencies (including ODFW) and some non-governmental organizations to seek an amendment of the FERC license. The amendment allowed the DVWD to construct a fish ladder to provide volitional upstream fish passage and a series of gates that provide supplemental flows to aid upstream fish passage and provide a downstream passage alternative to the existing intake. These actions are monitored and evaluated against performance objectives, and a set of tiered adaptive measures are identified that will improve performance as needed.

The Opal Springs Fish Passage project is critical to the successful reintroduction of anadromous fish into the Crooked River watershed. Prior to completion of the vertical slot fishladder, approximately 80% of the returning adult steelhead attempted to migrate upstream in the Crooked River rather than the Deschutes River and Whychus Creek. Opal Springs Dam is located only 0.5 miles upstream from the Crooked River's confluence with Lake Billy Chinook. Passage at the dam provides access to over 120 miles of good to excellent spawning and rearing habitat. Previous efforts at temporary trap and haul facilities have been able to move approximately half of the adults that were detected at Opal Springst. Permanent volitional passage at Opal Springs is critical to successful reintroduction and meeting implementation goals set forth in the Mid Columbia Steelhead Recovery Plan. As such, passage at Opal Springs had been identified by ODFW in 2013 as the second highest priority passage project in the State.

Fish Passage at Opal Springs could also reestablish genetic connectivity for native redband trout, mountain whitefish, and sucker populations in the Crooked River with those of the Deschutes and Metolius Rivers.

Project Highlight

Millicoma RiverIn the late 1950’s, road construction removed two bridges and filled in two river crossings on the East Fork of the Millicoma River in Coos County. The change blocked water to more than ½ mile of stream channel, moving the river into a narrow chute. Water passed through the new chute much more quickly than through the historic channel becoming a severe barrier to fall Chinook and partial barrier to other migratory species. ODFW, Weyerhaeuser, The Freshwater Trust, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, and Coos Watershed Association partnered together to install two new bridges and fill the channelized chute moving the river back into the historic channel. The project is complete and fish have access through the the ½ mile of reconnected historical stream channel and more than 16 miles of habitat upstream.

View a time lapse one of the bridges being built and after the river was reconnected

For Fish Passage plan approvals, waivers, or exemptions, please contact Greg Apke, Fish Passage Coordinator, at 503-947-6228 or Kregg Smith, Assistant Fish Passage Coordinator, at 503-947-6217.

State of Oregon Fish Passage Approvals for Instream Habitat Restoration Actions

Photo by Nick Calabrese

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) has developed new fish passage policy guidance and project review procedures for instream habitat restoration projects designed to specifically mimic instream natural habitat features created by beavers and beaver dams. The state’s fish passage policy (ORS 509.585) administered by ODFW requires owners-operators of artificial obstructions which include channel-spanning habitat restoration structures, to notify and submit project design details for ODFW fish passage review and approval. In some instances these fish passage rules and regulations deter or delay instream habitat restoration activities. The primary goal of this new policy guidance bulletin (see below) is to streamline and expedite the state’s fish passage review and approval procedures for instream habitat restoration projects designed and implemented to specifically mimic natural habitat features created by beaver and beaver dams. The policy guidance bulletin clarifies when ODFW’s fish passage approval is required for instream habitat restoration actions, including but are not limited to Beaver Dam Analogues (BDA), Vertical Post Structures (VPS), Post-Assisted Log Structures (PALS), and Artificial Beaver Dams (ABDs). The bulletin describes the ODFW fish passage review and approval procedures for different instream habitat restoration activities and defines expedited timelines associated with fish passage permit acquisition.
The primary tenants of this new policy guidance bulletin and the information provided below are to provide regulatory incentives realized through an expedited ODFW fish passage review and approval process for specific instream habitat restoration activities developed to create complex instream fish habitats that simulate and mimic natural habitat features created by beaver dams, while simultaneously constructing physical habitat features that encourage and promote beaver dam construction and/or re-establishment.

The primary goals and objectives of the information provided by these resources are to provide habitat restoration practitioners and project proponents fundamental planning and design guidance information on low risk, low cost and low impact instream habitat restoration actions that can be hand-built, permeable, low-profile, temporary, and use untreated organic materials that mimic function habitat created by natural beaver dam and will be maintained to not become native fish migration impediments.

Restoration Guidance Documents

  1. Pollock, M.M., G.M. Lewallen, K. Woodruff, C.E. Jordan and J.M. Castro (Editors) 2018. The Beaver Restoration Guidebook: Working with Beaver to Restore Streams, Wetlands, and Floodplains. Version 2.01. Online@: OFWO - Beaver Restoration
  1. Wheaton J.M. et al. 2019 Low-Tech Process-Based Restoration of Riverscapes Design Manual Version 1.0 Riverscapes Restoration Design Manual (pdf)

2019 Statewide Fish Passage Priority List


Fishway at Riley CreekSince August 2001, the owner or operator of an artificial obstruction located in waters in which native migratory fish are currently or were historically present must address fish passage requirements prior to certain trigger events. Laws regarding fish passage may be found in ORS 509.580 through 910 and in OAR 635, Division 412.

Trigger events include installation, major replacement, a fundamental change in permit status (e.g., new water right, renewed hydroelectric license), or abandonment of the artificial obstruction. Further details concerning triggers can be requested from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).

Native migratory fish include native salmon, trout, lamprey, sturgeon, and suckers, as well as a few other species. It is ODFW's responsibility to determine the current or historical presence of native migratory fish; for streams lacking data this determination may be based on professional judgement. If the owner/operator knows that native migratory fish are or were present at the site, then the owner/operator does not need to contact ODFW for this determination and may proceed with meeting fish passage requirements on their own information. However, if the owner/operator does not think native migratory fish are or were present, or is unsure of presence, ODFW should be contacted to make the determination.

Addressing fish passage requirements entails the owner/operator obtaining from ODFW: 1) approval for a passage plan when passage will be provided, 2) a waiver from providing passage, or 3) an exemption from providing passage. It is the intent of state fish passage laws (ORS 509.585(1)) that, in most cases, option #1 should be sought and passage should be provided at the artificial obstruction.

Note that complying with ODFW's fish passage requirements is likely not the only regulatory approval needed to perform many actions at or in relation to an artificial obstruction. Oregon Department of State Lands, Oregon Water Resources Department, US Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA Fisheries, other ODFW sections (e.g., habitat and fish salvage), or other local, state, or federal agencies may also have permits or requirements which must be met.


An overview of the entire fish passage process can be found on the ODFW Fish Passage Program website. There are several preliminary items which must be considered before the owner/operator must address fish passage at an artificial obstruction.

  1. Is there a trigger? It is the responsibility of the owner/operator of an artificial obstruction to know whether they will trigger the need to address fish passage. However, if there is a question whether a particular action is a trigger, then ODFW should be contacted for trigger clarification. If an action is a trigger, fish passage will only need to be addressed if native migratory fish are currently or were historically present in the stream reach of the artificial obstruction.

  2. Native Migratory Fish Determination. A local ODFW biologist should be contacted to determine native migratory fish presence at the site. If native migratory fish are or were historically present then fish passage must be addressed. Project proponents should assume that fish passage must be addressed regardless of stream size or seasonality if no determination from ODFW regarding fish presence is requested.

If there is a trigger and native migratory fish are or were present, then fish passage must be addressed. As previously stated, this entails either providing passage or obtaining a waiver or exemption. Providing passage is preferred, and this requires ODFW approval, as described in the next section.


Passage plans and installed structures must comply with ODFW Fish Passage Criteria, which can be found on the ODFW Fish Passage Program website. Fish passage criteria and design are normally based on the migration timing and swimming ability of the weakest individual of the weakest species and life history stage of native migratory fish which are present that require upstream access. Thus, it is important to identify this information for the location in question. With this in mind, here are some key steps for addressing fish passage prior to a trigger event:

  1. Fish Passage Criteria and Design Information. If native migratory fish are or were present at the site and passage must be addressed, then the local ODFW biologist should determine the specific native migratory fish species, life history stages, and migration timing (i.e., months of the year passage is required for these fish) at the site. This can be done at the same time as the Native Migratory Fish Determination discussed above. For certain passage design methods this information will determine which passage criteria must be met. If approved by ODFW's Fish Passage Coordinator, ODFW management objectives and other relevant factors may allow deviation from the timing and/or weakest species or stage design requirements. Project proponents should assume that the weakest fish contained in the criteria are present and require passage regardless of stream size or seasonality if no determination from ODFW regarding fish passage needs is requested.

  2. Passage Plan Approval. Once a structure has been designed, a local ODFW biologist should be contacted to obtain passage plan approval if ODFW approval is not explicitly obtained through another State of Oregon permitting process such as the Oregon Department of State Lands' fill-removal permitting or the Oregon Department of Forestry's forest practices notification. Note that complicated structures requiring engineering review, such as hydraulic-method culverts, fishways, and tidegates, will take more time for approval due to the nature of the structure and potential need to also involve ODFW statewide engineering staff. Also, based on workload, ODFW engineers may be able to provide technical assistance during the design stage; contact the ODFW Fish Passage Coordinator for more information.


If passage will not be provided at the artificial obstruction then a waiver or exemption must be obtained prior to the trigger event.

Waivers should be sought if providing passage at the artificial obstruction would provide a benefit to native migratory fish. Fish passage waivers allow an artificial obstruction to not provide fish passage if an "alternative to fish passage" is provided. Herein the "alternative to fish passage" will be referred to as "mitigation". Mitigation must provide a net benefit to native migratory fish over providing passage at the artificial obstruction in question. The mechanism for granting waivers and assuring the benefit provided by mitigation is an official Agreement which both the owner/operator and ODFW must sign if the waiver is approved. If all provisions of the Agreement are met, waivers are valid until the next trigger event at the artificial obstruction, which may be indefinitely.

Fish passage exemptions are different than a waiver and can be granted for three reasons: 1) a lack of fish passage has already been mitigated, 2) a legal waiver has already been granted, or 3) there is no appreciable benefit to native migratory fish by providing passage. Pre-existing mitigation should be currently functioning, well documented for the site in question, and should have had ODFW involvement in approval. Mitigation does not need to be provided for exemptions based on “no appreciable benefit” to providing passage at the site. Exemptions are reviewed at least every seven years and are revocable. If an exemption is revoked then passage must be provided immediately, independent of a trigger event.

An application for a waiver or an exemption must be submitted to ODFW. The same application is used to apply for either a waiver or an exemption and is available on the ODFW Fish Passage Program website. Once an application is submitted to ODFW, an approval decision will typically take from 2-3 months, though this may vary depending on the complexity of the situation and ODFW workload. The waiver or exemption process entails the following steps (with typical ODFW time-frame in parenthesis):

  1. The owner/operator of the artificial obstruction submits a signed and completed Application to the ODFW Fish Passage Coordinator at 4034 Fairview Industrial Dr. SE, Salem, OR 97302.

  2. ODFW completes a written Benefit Analysis (3 weeks).

  3. ODFW develops a Draft Agreement (1 week) which is then forwarded to the owner/operator for review, comment, and preliminary approval.

  4. ODFW develops (1 week) a Public Notice soliciting comments regarding the waiver or exemption request. This will remain in effect for 3 weeks after distribution.

  5. After the public comment period, an approval decision will be made by the ODFW Fish Passage Coordinator (1 week) or the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission (at least 3 weeks). The Fish Passage Coordinator may make the decision under the following circumstances: i) if the total natural affected stream distance to natural barriers, independent of other artificial obstructions, is less than or equal to 0.5 mile, ii) if the request is for an exemption granted on the basis of prior receipt of a legal waiver, or iii) for re-authorization of an existing hydroelectric project subject to ORS 543A.030 to 055 and not subject to federal hydroelectric relicensing.

  6. If the waiver or exemption is approved and mitigation is involved, the Agreement is signed by both parties and carried out. If mitigation is not involved or the waiver or exemption is not approved, a letter will be sent from ODFW to the owner/operator indicating the decision outcome (1 week).

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