Future of dam

August 01, 2001 11:00 pm
PARADE APPEARANCE: U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., rides in this year's Chief Joseph Days Parade (The Observer/GARY FLETCHER).
PARADE APPEARANCE: U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., rides in this year's Chief Joseph Days Parade (The Observer/GARY FLETCHER).

By Gary Fletcher

Observer Staff Writer

WALLOWA LAKE U.S. Senator Gordon Smiths being in Wallowa County for Chief Joseph Days wasnt unusual, but his meeting atop Wallowa Lake dam Saturday was different.

According to Wallowa Lake Dam project manager David Hockett, Smith said, I can see why you need to fix it. There is hardly any water in front of it now, so you can really see its shortcomings.

Local farmers expressed concerns of possibly losing ownership of the dam, if they are successful in securing the up to $37.7 million, much of it in federal funds, to rehabilitate the dam, exchange seasonal irrigation water to save fish and to possibly build a hydroelectric project.

They were reassured to hear Smith respond, Klamath Falls will never happen again. There are going to be some changes, Hockett said.

Hockett interpreted Smiths remark as hinting that he might try again to introduce a bill to change the federal Endangered Species Act.

Smiths previous attempt did not succeed. However, congressmen are now hearing from farmers in the eastern United States who thought it a travesty how Klamath Falls farmers were recently deprived of irrigation water to save a sucker fish.

Wallowa County farmers want to save endangered species like salmon. The most expensive part of the dam proposal will be exchange/diversions to release lake water seasonally to irrigate lower valley farms which will leave water in the Lostine River and Bear Creek to save endangered fish.

This summer Bear Creek is reportedly at about a quarter of normal water flow for this time of year. It may be the lowest running waterway in the county.

The final phase in the final years of the Wallowa Lake dam proposal would be the possible installation of a hydroelectric facility.

The 10-person meeting included Grande Ronde Model Watershed Program Chairman Jeff Oveson, all the local ditch company presidents, and Oregon Speaker of the House Mark Simmons, R-Elgin.

The meeting was short, sweet, and to the point, Hockett said.

Smith had just come from meeting people at the rodeos Shriners Breakfast. After the meeting at the dam, he and Simmons were off to each ride a horse in the grand parade down Josephs Main Street.

Smiths natural resources adviser is scheduled to be in the county Aug. 15 to meet with Hockett, he said. Hockett is hopeful that she will help write a bill to provide funding for the project.

Senator Smith has shown a lot of interest in this. I think we have a very good chance of success with the project, Hockett said.