$3.6 million pipeline will help restore native fish habitat

ODELL — With help from the Hood River watershed council, the East Fork Irrigation District has brought together diverse partners for the first phase of a large pipeline project that will eliminate fish habitat problems associated with a 100-year-old irrigation delivery system.

Construction will start after Oct. 1, when the irrigation canals will be closed after harvest season. The new pipeline will carry 42 cubic feet per second of irrigation water around Neal Creek for discharge to an existing canal. Phase one is scheduled to be completed by April.

The District and its partners have been tackling this project for years, but due to limited resources were unable to put all the pieces together until now, according to Holly Coccoli, coordinator of the Hood River Watershed Group.

Currently, imported water from the silty East Fork Hood River is carried in the creek to downstream irrigators. This project will remove sediment-laden flows from the creek as well as a small diversion dam that blocks fish migration.

Water quality and fish passage will dramatically improve in Neal Creek, an important spawning stream used by native steelhead, according to Coccoli.

Coccoli said the project will improve habitat in seven miles of the creek, restore access to two miles of spawning habitat, and ensure safe migration for young fish that now become stranded in canals due to a failing fish screen at the diversion dam.

Construction of the first phase of the 4.3 mile, six-foot diameter pipeline will cost $3.6 million. The total project cost is $10 million.

When asked why the partners sought to complete a project of this size instead of simply building a new fish ladder and screen, irrigation district manager John Buckley said, “We started with a less costly plan to upgrade fish passage facilities, but soon had to face the fact that they didn’t address the total problem nor comply with state water quality rules. We needed a comprehensive solution, not just a band-aid.”

The pipeline will generally follow the existing canal, and much of the excavation and installation will be in the canal itself, according to Sharon Swyers, irrigation district office manager.

The first phase of the pipeline will start adjacent to the upper Hanel Mill, travel north generally along Highway 35, and then east and north around Booth Hill.

Partners in this project include the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Bonneville Power Administration, Department of Environmental Quality, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation, Hood River County Board of Commissioners, Hood River Watershed Group, U.S. Forest Service, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

OWEB was created in 1999, and is charged with funding local voluntary efforts to improve water quality and quantity, enhance habitat for critical fish runs, and restore and protect watersheds and wildlife habitat to support local economies.

Funding comes from many sources, including a voter-approved 7.5 percent from lottery proceeds for the purpose of watershed restoration and protection.

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