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CULVER, OR -- After about a dozen years of planning, the Opal Springs Diversion Dam upgrade is nearly complete. The dam is located on the Crooked River, in Jefferson County, just south of Lake Billy Chinook. Crooked River Watershed Council Director Chris Gannon says the project is designed to help native fish pass safely through to uptream habitat, "One way to do that, of course, is to put in a fish ladder, to mitigate its impact to fish. The other is to raise the dam so that the company gets some of the revenue back that it’s invested." He says raising the dam level by nearly two feet allows more water to be released into the fish ladder, to encourage fish to use it.


The $11-million project will also provide a more efficient source of renewable energy for the Deschutes Valley Water District, which provides drinking water to Jefferson County and the Earth20 bottled water company, "They sort of offset some of their pumping costs," Gannon tells KBND News, "Because they’re in a very deep canyon, they’ve got a pretty big electric bill, really, when they pump domestic water up out of that canyon to serve their service area for potable water. The hydro power- they sell the electricity on the open market at a higher rate than they actually have to buy it back to use to pump; so there’s actually a little bit of a profit margin between those two price points." He says that revenue allows the water district to keep prices down for its service area.  


Gannon says the district and watershed council worked together on the project, "This is sort of the Central Oregon approach to conservation challenges in Oregon. So, we’re very collaborative. This particular project is highly representative of how we approach these kinds of challenges – very expensive project, very sort of technical."


Visitors to the area will notice a difference, "There are going to be thousands and thousands of yards of new concrete, for example, to represent the ladder and the extra dam height," says Gannon, "So, there’s clearly more gray infrastructure, you might say, there, even though it’s a renewable project; it’s sort of been beefed up. It’s built to last a really long time. Now, with this ladder in place, or going to be in place shortly, it really provides the environmental sustainability." Click HERE to learn more. 


Deschutes Valley Water District signed an agreement with fish agencies to design the new dam, in 2011. Construction began last year. The work is ahead of schedule and should wrap up in August. 

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