The idea of fish screens seemed simple enough. Fish and debris get into man-made diversions on waterways (like canals and irrigation ditches), ruining the water for hydroelectric generators, drinking water, irrigation, and any number of different dedications. Why not, people thought, put a vertically metal screen at the intake to protect fish and provide water clean of debris?
The reality of fish screens proved less than perfect. Although in fewer numbers, fish were still being killed or seriously injured by those screens. Screens also needed cleaning often as water trapped debris against them. For the people who had to clear the debris that meant going out–at two in the morning, sometimes to remote locations or during winter snows or a combination of the three.
And occasionally floods washed away fish screens.
That’s exactly what happened to Hood River’s Farmers Irrigation District in February 1996. Flooding washing away all but one of the 34 fish screens installed only the year before. Without money to replace screens—that hadn’t worked all that well in the first place—the District reached out to potential allies in local fish agencies, who were unhappy with the damage fish screens did to fish.
That’s when cool things started happening. Engineers, farmers, district staff, agency personnel, and tribal leaders pitched in to help create a better design. They hit on a new idea: What if the fish screen was horizontal instead of vertical? Water would drop through the screens into the diversion while fish and leaves, twigs would travel in water over the top. The non-profit FCA now markets the screens.
This meant no more cleaning off debris in the middle of the night, no more shutting down hydro plants, more water for farmers, and hundreds of thousands of dollars saved per year (currently $479,200 saved per year, according to the FCA website). It also meant protecting endangered fish.
Not enough for you? Okay, there’s more.
In 2005 the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife was trying to put fish screens in at Badger Creek, two and a half miles into the wilderness. The plan called for 75 yards of cement in a location unreachable by heavy equipment.
For seven years the project remained in limbo – until ODF&W contacted the FCA, who told them about a modular Farmer Screens made of pre-fabricated steel sections and components that bolt together onsite. Modular Farmer Screens are made of pre-fabricated steel sections and components that bolt together onsite.Using a bed of compacted gravel and a back-fill of native materials, the project that was considered impossible was completed quickly, safely, and relatively inexpensively.
The Farmer Screens allow for installation of a hydro system by removing debris and fish from the system and meeting state and federal requirements. While the screens themselves don’t actually generate energy, there are incentives and programs to help develop in-conduit hydro-power (using water already diverted for another purpose). An example of this would be putting a turbine in water used for irrigation before it reaches crops, using the energy of the current to generate power. The FCA currently has nine screens that feed hydro-power systems.