US-based PacifiCorp has agreed to pay US$22M to restore salmon habitat as part of an agreement announced allowing the utility to keep the Soda Springs dam on the North Umpqua river.

The agreement, which comes after years of lengthy negotiations, is the first step in seeking a renewed licence for the hydroelectric project from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

The dam’s previous operating licence expired in 1997 but has been extended yearly since then. If FERC approves the agreement, the new licence would be valid for 35 years.

As part of the agreement, PacifiCorp will pay US$350,000 a year towards erosion control and enhancement of wetlands, beginning in 2002. The company will also restore spawning habitat in the Soda Springs bypass reach, increase water flows and modify Soda Springs dam to allow fish to swim over it.

Environmentalists and the Forest Service had previously demanded removal of Soda Springs dam — the farthest downstream of a series of eight dams generating 185MW of electricity— in order to open 12.9km of extra salmon and steelhead spawning habitat on the North Umpqua river and Fish Creek.