After years of effort the final funding for a volitional fish ladder at Opal Springs Dam was obtained earlier this month. There are some regulatory hurdles remaining but construction should begin in the spring and be complete within two years. Opal Springs is a small hydroelectric facility owned by Deschutes Valley Water District about a quarter mile up the Crooked River from where it enters Lake Billy Chinook. Downstream fish passage has been available, mostly through the turbines, but not upstream passage.
Over the past few years thousands of anadromous fish have migrated down through the fish passage facility in Lake Billy Chinook, made it to the ocean, and subsequently returned only to be blocked by Opal Springs Dam. For reasons not understood, the vast majority of returning steelhead and chinook head up the Crooked River arm. (Returning sockeye go up the Metolius as they should.) There is a crude trap and haul system in place at Opal Springs that does manage to send some fish up river but far more fish turn around and wander in the lake until they simply perish. Many believe a fish ladder has the potential to dramatically improve the odds of successfully reintroducing anadromous fish into the upper Deschutes Basin.