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Several State reps voice concerns over recent dam drawdowns in two letter

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from the offices of


Date: January 3, 2024

Contact: [email protected] 

Representatives point out State has a responsibility for dam drawdowns and devastation caused to communities 

SALEM, Ore – On Wednesday, State Representatives Jami Cate (R-Lebanon) and Charlie Conrad (R-Dexter) led a coalition in sending a letter to Governor Kotek thanking her for advocating the sweeping impact of Willamette Basin dam drawdowns to the federal government, but also reminding her of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife agency responsibility in those drawdowns.

“Our state agencies have a responsibility to the communities they serve and the problems we are seeing today are traced directly to involvement from an Oregon Agency,” said Representative Charlie Conrad (R-Dexter).  “Oregon has a duty to balance the priorities of the state as well as the protections of community assets like drinking water.” 

The letter was signed by multiple Senators, Representatives, Commissioners and Mayors who are tracking the developments with the dam drawdowns as they are egregiously impacting their communities today. 

Representative Jami Cate (R-Lebanon) quipped, “All the entities involved in this horrible decision should be held accountable, not just pointing fingers at each other. Downstream communities have been severely affected for years to come and someone needs to step up to foot the bill for the damaged caused by their decisions.” Representative Cate concludes, “At what point do the citizens of Oregon not just get the short end of the stick on agency decisions?” 

Cities and counties in the affected areas are estimating a minimum loss from tourism of 10% a year. Ongoing efforts for treating and fixing the water quality is reaching the $38 million mark with more expected. 



3 January 2023
The Honorable
Governor Tina Kotek
254 State Capitol
Salem, OR 97301

Subject: State has responsibility in devastating deep drawdowns at Willamette Basin Dams

Governor Kotek,
We sincerely appreciate you taking the time to express your concerns to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the water quality and fish kills many of our communities are experiencing. Clean water is a resource our state prides itself on protecting, and your advocacy embodies that commitment. We are writing, however, to bring to your attention the critical role one of your agencies played in the rise of these concerns and the conditions we are now facing: violations of communities’ right to clean water, a looming threat for many more communities’ water, and millions of dollars in costs to communities as a direct result of the state’s advocacy.

Though it is easy to regard this as a Federal issue and think an agency like the Corps is thus responsible, the State’s overwhelming support of plaintiffs seeking to improve salmonid populations in the Upper Willamette River under the Endangered Species Act cannot be ignored.

Despite the Corps and other defendants’ staunch opposition to plaintiffs’ proposed remedies due to fears of far-reaching negative impacts including to human health and safety, ODFW was resolute in their support of the remedies. The State’s testimony was critical in U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez filing the injunction in 2021 which forced the Corps to conduct drawdowns of Willamette Basin dams—including the devastating deep drawdowns at Green Peter Dam and Lookout Point Dam. ODFW’s overwhelming support for plaintiffs and utter dismissal of the Corps’ concerns can be summed up in one quote from their reply brief:

“Nothing in the Federal Defendants’ response brief or declarations has shaken [ODFW]’s support for remedies proposed by plaintiffs. To the contrary, the Federal Defendants’ response underscores the need for the Court to enter the proposed remedies…”

When the Corps raised concern these measures would force them to violate state standards in water quality and that the state would need to alter our standards for remedies to be in compliance, ODFW denied any change to standards was necessary and argued that the Corps was “over simplifying” the situation. The agency went even further in their advocacy, assuring the Court that these drawdowns would in fact improve water quality, and that “the potential for conflicts have been considered and addressed.” Yet no provisions were included in the remedies to mitigate the negative impacts on anything but Chinook Salmon.

We understand you were not Governor at the time this injunction was ordered, but that doesn’t diminish the State’s obligation in the problems occurring today due to ODFW’s role in that trial. Oregon has a responsibility to balance the priorities of our state and ensure the protection of our communities, waters, and our ecosystems as a whole—not just a single part. In failing to do so, the State paved the way for the Corps’ and other Defendants’ fears of negative impacts—to water quality, to neighboring communities’ water supply, to other species sharing our water ways, to agriculture’s irrigation abilities, and to economies who rely on recreational tourism—to become the reality for our region, proving those concerns were not the mere “deflections” ODFW dismissed them as being. The State demonstrated a unilateral priority of one salmonid species— regarding as irrelevant anything that didn’t have direct impact to that species, including human health and safety, the thousands of Kokanee Salmon in Foster Reservoir, and the economic losses in the communities surrounding these waterways.

ODFW failed to give adequate consideration to the warned far-reaching and truly devastating impacts on the priorities of our state beyond a single species. As such, we need for you and your agencies to champion the balanced solutions Oregon deserves, and prioritize mitigating the harm inflicted to our rural communities because of these orders.

The injunction resulted in concerning drawdowns at many of the 13 dams in the Willamette River Basin, but the epicenter of the fallout is truly the deep drawdowns at Green Peter Dam and Lookout Point Dam. The communities of Lebanon and Sweet Home have experienced raw water turbidity levels as high as 350 NTU (nephelometric turbidity units), far surpassing the usual wintertime average of 15 NTU, and even the storm-event spikes of 50 NTU. Water treatment plants for communities were planned according to historic NTU levels our waterways may experience, and have caused plants to be grossly inadequate to process these incredible turbidities without added costs, increased chemical usage, and prematurely depleting their membrane longevity. The long-term impacts on the treatment plants are still being assessed, but replacement of the membranes alone will cost these cities several million dollars, and the necessary pre-treatment installations will cost many more millions—which communities cannot afford.

There are some who think that the consequences of these drawdowns will not persist beyond the winter months—as the Corps has already begun refilling the reservoirs; but there are serious concerns that the reservoirs will not be restored to previous levels by spring and summer. Lower pool levels will reduce summer flows in our rivers and heighten the risk of wells running dry, exacerbating water scarcity, and impacting local communities as well as irrigation districts.

These impacts have already started just outside Lowell near Dexter Reservoir, and are likely to spread to other communities as we proceed into summer months. The reduced reservoir capacity also threatens economic stability as communities face losses in recreation and tourism, leading to further declines in revenue and employment opportunities, such has already been reported for many businesses in Sweet Home.

Looking ahead to future years, even downstream communities like Salem face an imminent threat to their water supply if the deep drawdown orders are expanded. Salem and communities upstream toward Detroit Dam rely on the North Santiam for their water supply, and their treatment systems are ill-prepared to endure anywhere close to the turbidity levels that have been seen in the South Santiam and the Willamette’s Middle Fork. The long-term consequences extend beyond the immediate challenges some communities are enduring, as the cumulative impact may strain municipal resources throughout the river basin, necessitate costly infrastructure adjustments, and adversely affect the overall well-being of our communities— especially disrupting the wildfire recovery efforts in the Santiam Canyon as it sustains the
incredible losses of recreation tourism (estimated at up to $11M per year) which it has relied on for decades.

It is imperative that the State of Oregon takes a stand in mitigating the fallout from decisions it so strongly advocated for, but also to show Oregonians that there are no double standards between the expectations of government entities and private entities when it comes to the
protections of our natural resources. When a privately owned and managed dam in Douglas County needed to conduct a drawdown for repairs, and the negative impacts and fish kills were more than engineering firms anticipated, ODFW took action to hold them accountable filing a $27.6 million claim against the Winchester Water Control District (WWCD) on the basis that the losses were “significant and preventable”. Yet when the managing entity of the Willamette River Basin dams (the Corps) objected to mandated drawdowns due to the overwhelming risk of negative impacts, the State chose the opposite course of action: advocating for the remedies which have resulted in, likewise, significant and preventable losses—including an unfathomable amount of dead Kokanee in Foster Reservoir. The entities who advocated for those remedies should be held accountable for the losses incurred, no differently than what ODFW did with WWCD—which should include the State of Oregon.

As a result of the widespread negative environmental and economic consequences stemming from the deep drawdowns at Green Peter and Lookout Point Dams, we respectfully request your assistance in mitigating damages and fostering a more equitable and community-inclusive approach to managing our dams. We urge you to not only advocate for the allocation of $45 million* in emergency funding to cover the incurred costs communities have sustained due to the turbid waters, but also to advocate for additional funding as costs continue to be assessed. We also urge you to push for a modification to Judge Hernandez’s 2021 injunction to require a balanced approach of priorities and representation for our communities during future  management decisions of our dams. Letting our rural communities have more of a say in the management of our own resources will ease many of the tensions that continue to fuel the urban and rural divide our state faces, while also leading to more balanced decisions that weigh water, fish life, and the economic impacts nearby localities will sustain.

Fred Girod                                                                  Cedric Hayden
State Senator, District 9                                          State Senator, District 6

John Lively                                                                 Jami Cate
State Representative, District 7                            State Representative, District 11

Charlie Conrad                                                          Ed Diehl
State Representative, District 12                          State Representative, District 17

Roger Nyquist                                                           Will Tucker
Linn County Commissioner                                   Linn County Commissioner

Sherrie Sprenger                                                      Danielle Bethell
Linn County Commissioner                                  Marion County Commissioner

Kevin Cameron                                                         Colm Willis
Marion County Commissioner                              Marion County Commissioner

Ryan Ceniga                                                              David Loveall
Lane County Commissioner                                  Lane County Commissioner

Mayor Kenneth Jackola                                          Mayor Susan Coleman
City of Lebanon                                                        City of Sweet Home

Mayor Steve Horning                                             Mayor Ron Evans
City of Turner                                                          City of Gates

Mayor Jim Trett                                                      Mayor Brian Lewis
City of Detroit                                                          City of Sodaville

Mayor Justin Cary                                                  Mayor Don Bennett
City of Waterloo                                                      City of Lowell

Mayor Tim Kirsch                                                  Mayor Adam Craven
Mill City                                                                   City of Brownsville

Mayor Michael Myers                                           Mayor Scott Cowen
City of Jefferson                                                    City of Millersburg

Brent Stevenson
Santiam Water Control District


                                          ALBANY     LEBANON     SWEET HOME         LOWELL

INSTALLS/RETRO  $15MIL         $15MIL                       TBD                                 $1MIL
REPLACEMENT       $1.8MIL     $3-5MIL                       TBD                                 TBD
TREATMENT/LABOR  $15K           TBD                          $17.5K                            TBD
DEEPENINGS                                                                        TBD                               $150K
ECONOMIC LOSSES     TBD           TBD                        10% Minimum                TBD

Total Costs Incurred: $37,982,518.0



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