March 26, 2001 11:00 pm

People working together can accomplish a lot more than people working independent of each other. Wallowa County has demonstrated what cooperation and collaboration can produce in the way it laid out the benefits a rebuilt Wallowa Lake dam could provide.

The dam, built in 1918, is in need of reconstruction. A year ago, making a case for $38 million in federal funding to rebuild rather than tear down a dam seemed like a longshot. But Wallowa County has done exactly that.

A vision statement for the dam project lays out the benefits the existing but crumbling structure provides. But it goes beyond the status quo. The vision not only reflects the importance the dam plays in Wallowa Countys livelihood, but it shows additional benefits that a new dam could provide.

This is the little dam thats got to be, said David Hockett, project manager for Associated Ditch Companies. It is the economic engine for Wallowa County.

For that reason the ditch company has worked with all stakeholders to craft a vision of what the dam can do for Wallowa County. The stakeholders range from the City of Joseph to the Nez Perce Indians. Anyone who has a stake in the dam has had a say in the vision statement.

The end result is a win-win for all interests. The dam helps supply water for Joseph. It holds back the water that creates Wallowa Lake, which draws 80,000 visitors a year. And it supplies irrigation for 15,000 acres of prime agricultural land.

But a new dam could provide even more benefits. Not only would it provide the benefits of the existing dam and flood control for the cities of Joseph, Enterprise and Wallowa, but it would be designed to provide fish passage that would help in the reintroduction of coho and sockeye salmon to Wallowa Lake. It would allow for the reservoir to be held at full pool level, which hasnt happened since the 1970s.

More water could be allocated to Lostine River and Bear Creek Valley irrigators. And a new dam could be used to power generators, something that hasnt occurred since the 1950s.

The project is a component of the countys salmon recovery effort. It represents a collaborative effort of enormous proportions.

Commissioner BEN BOSWELL calls the effort another example of the Wallowa County Way, of taking pending issues under wing and finding local solutions before state or federal mandates dictate what the solutions will be.

Oregons congressional delegation needs to give the vision a serious look, make sure all concerns are addressed, and do what is necessary to secure the needed funding.

The project has long-term implications for Wallowa County, its environment and economy. Its worthy of support.