March 20, 2001 11:00 pm

By Gary Fletcher

Observer Staff Writer

ENTERPRISE While waves are being made to remove dams, Wallowa County is seeking $37.7 million in federal funds to rebuild Wallowa Lakes 1918 dam.

The work would be done as part of a valley-wide water management and salmon recovery plan.

Many of the dollars will find their way into the local area, said David Hockett, project manager for Associated Ditch Companies.

Unlike dam removal proposals that can produce negative results, the Wallowa Lake dam restoration project is expected to improve fish recovery, flood control, irrigation and even hydropower generation.

This is the little dam thats got to be, said Hockett. It is the economic engine for Wallowa County.

The dam helps supply the city of Joseph with its domestic water, impounds the Wallowa Lake reservoir that hosts 80,000 recreationists annually, and supplies irrigation for more than 15,000 acres of prime agricultural land.

There is no doubt that without the dam the Wallowa River would be dry at Minam in August, said Wallowa County Commissioner Ben Boswell.

A new, earthquake-resistant dam, to be completed by the fall of 2003, could provide even more far-reaching benefits in addition to flood control for the cities of Joseph, Enterprise and Wallowa, Hockett said.

A year ago the ditch companies invited all the related state and federal agencies to join in developing the framework to plan and implement a watershed management program.

Plans were discussed for a new dam that would be designed to provide fish passage to support the re-introduction of coho and sockeye salmon to Wallowa Lake. It could also enhance recovery of the Endangered Species Act-listed spring chinook salmon and bull trout by safely impounding more water.

Since the 1970s, the reservoir has been held below full pool elevation for safety reasons.

With a new dam, additional water could be allocated to Lostine River and Bear Creek Valley irrigators so that the Lostine River water could remain in its channel during the spring chinook migration from late July to September.

Pumps and pipelines would get the water from the Wallowa River.

This is an implementation of a strategy set out in the salmon recovery plan, Boswell said. It looks like a model project to me.

An additional benefit may be power generation.

The dam used to power a generation plant, which was decommissioned following a fire in the 1950s.

The last phase of the project calls for a hydropower plant to be completed by 2006. It could sell electricity to the power grid, with a portion of the profits going to Wallowa County Hospital.

The project has been proposed to Oregons congressional delegation.

Boswell, while earlier this month attending the National Association of Counties Legislation Conference in Washington, D.C., handed a copy of the program vision statement to each member of the Oregon congressional delegation. He also gave a copy to Lindsay Slater of Wallowa, who is chief of staff for Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson.

Boswell said the vision statement served as a reminder. Each was already aware of it through a comprehensive congressional budget request sent by Hockett.

Hockett said the delegation also was visited by Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries representatives, who expressed support for the project.

Next week, Grande Ronde Model Watershed Program Director Jeff Oveson of Wallowa will travel to meet with the Oregon delegation to encourage program funding.

Boswell will return to Washington April 1-4 to attend the National Grange Legislative Fly-in.

The next step is for citizens to call, write or e-mail the delegation, to express support for including this project in the federal budget, Hockett said.