A proposal to install hydropower generation in Bowman Dam near Prineville is still alive despite denial of a fish passage waiver.
The decade old proposal is now the subject of a bill working its way through the state legislature.
In October 2020, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission denied a fish passage waiver for the Bowman Dam hydroelectric project.
The commission concluded proposed mitigations to 17 miles of Ochoco and McKay creeks did not provide a net benefit to native fish, and not nearly as much as providing passage to 464 miles of fish habitat above Bowman Dam.
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Dam proponents estimated the costs of constructing fish passage around Bowman Dam between $138 million and $250 million. They argue such costs far outweigh the estimated $300,000 in annual revenues from the sale of electricity generated at the dam and made the project unfeasible.
“It would be a 3-megawatt power generation unit,” said Casey Keiser, City of Prineville Public Works Director. “It’s estimated over a year that would be about 15,000 megawatts which is the amount of energy necessary to power about 1,400 homes. It would be sustainable, environmentally friendly energy produced out of a low impact unit that was going to have minimal impacts on the dam and provide a lot of benefits to the native fish habitat.”
House Bill 2930— sponsored by Rep. Mark Owens from Crane and Senator Lynn Findley from Vale—would grant the fish passage waiver hydro project supporters couldn’t get from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Keiser said the proposed hydro generating station would reduce the amount of dissolved gasses in the river immediately below Bowman Dam by reducing the energy of the water flow. So-called gas bubble disease “is an issue for some of the native fish,” he said.
HB 2930 claims the Bowman Dam hydropower project is similar to other hydro retrofit proposals that were granted fish passage waivers.
Prineville city officials say most of the costs of the hydro project thus far have been covered by grants and that they will keep trying to find ways to make it work.