JOSEPH — The memorandum of agreement needed to release funds for the $16 million refurbishment of the Wallowa Lake Dam has been agreed upon and is now in the process of being signed, according to Jim Harbeck, field office supervisor of the Nez Perce Tribe’s Department of Fisheries Resources Management in Joseph.
The tribe is one of four signatory groups that must sign the MOA, along with the Wallowa Lake Irrigation District, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Harbeck said Tuesday, June 23, that the MOA has been agreed upon but it is now being circulated among the signatory groups for final review and actual signatures. For example, it is the Lapwai, Idaho-based Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee’s chairman and secretary who must sign for the tribe. Corresponding officials for the other groups also must actually ink the agreement, Harbeck said.
“As you can imagine it’s not an instantaneous process,” he said.
He expects the signatures to be obtained in coming weeks.
The MOA deals with issues directly related to water storage and release, but does not address the type of fish passage deemed critical to final agreement on the refurbished dam’s design. Given the narrow canyon where the century-old dam is located, design of a fish passage is expected to be complicated. But that issue has been tabled and is being left for later, Harbeck said.
“A fish passage will be challenging at that site,” he said. “But it’s yet to be decided.”
He and others involved in the negotiations declined to specify the type of fish passage envisioned, but they’re eager to see restored the ability of sockeye salmon — and other fish — to make Wallowa Lake their home. Steelhead, coho salmon, bull trout, mountain whitefish and rainbow trout are all species that can live in the lake.
Dan Butterfield, president of the irrigation district, said Monday, June 22, that he’s expecting the district also to sign soon as soon as its attorney completes a review of the MOA. But, he added, dealing with public entities takes a while.
“We hope to get this done by mid-July and be able to move forward,” Butterfield said.
With the MOA signed, plans call for a state-approved appropriation of $14 million to be released in April — another $2 million is being raised from other sources — and actual work on the dam to begin in August 2021 after the irrigation season is done. Work will proceed through the winter and the lake will be refilled at the dam the following April.
Mort McMillen, project manager for design and execution of the project, works for McMilen Jacobs Associates of Boise, Idaho. The Wallowa County native said earlier this month the existing dam will be modified to include a fish passage, improve the spillway, add more concrete for weight, replace the five conduit gates with new ones and to upgrade the electrical and instrumentation.