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Changes to John Day are ‘not worth it’

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) says that removing John Day dam or even lowering its reservoir, is too costly and will not save endangered Columbia river salmon. Despite criticism from conservation groups and Indian tribes, USACE has said that it will recommend no further study when it reports its findings to Congress in July.

The John Day dam, which includes a 1200MW power house, a spillway, a navigation lock and fishway facilities was constructed by the USACE between 1958 and 1968, on the Columbia river near Rufus in Oregon.

Native tribes and environmentalists believe that modifying the John Day is even more important to Columbia basin salmon recovery efforts than breaching the Snake river dams. They maintain that the 76 river miles behind the dam now flooded by the reservoir were prime spawning grounds for fall chinook, the most important salmon species to sport and tribal fisheries.

But USACE found in a two-year, US$2.5M study that drawdown would reduce power production by half to an annual average of 600M kWh; barging would end as it would cost too much to deepen a new 20 mile stretch of river and modify locks at the dam; flood control would be too expensive; and that biological benefits of the drawdown would be marginal. The agency also said drawdown would make it impossible to continue barging young salmon past the Columbia dams, which it considers the best way to help Columbia river basin salmon.