LIHI Certificate #4 - Falls Creek Project, Oregon

The Falls Creek Project is located on Falls Creek, a tributary to the South Santiam River, about 25 miles east of Sweet Home, Oregon in the Willamette National Forest. The project was completed in 1984 as a run-of-river project that generates power from a small quantity of water and very high head. In 1986, the Falls Creek Project won the Oregon Governor's Energy Award due to its low environmental impact relative to its energy production. The National Resources Defense Council cited the Falls Creek Project as a model facility in its Spring 1985 magazine, "The Amicus Journal." The project was an early participant in LIHI and was initially certified in 2002. The project is currently owned by Falls Creek Hydro Project, L.P. (Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, LLC).

The project includes: a diversion structure, penstock, powerhouse, Pelton wheel turbine, and bypassed reach.

Falls Creek originates in a meadow and flows downstream to the diversion structure at river mile 2.35. The diversion is 5 feet in height. The reservoir overflows through two sets of screens. The primary screens consist of three self-cleaning 8-foot-long panels with wedge wire O’-Gee screens. One cfs of water passes down a channel at the base of the screens to discharge into the original Falls Creek stream channel. This bypass flow also flushes material that builds up on the screens back into the stream. The water that enters the screen chamber discharges into a 30-inch-diameter penstock that is 7,380 feet in length, almost all of it buried and covered with natural vegetation to conceal it from sight. The penstock narrows to 20 inches as it enters the powerhouse. The overall drop is 2,381 feet down the mountainside to the powerhouse on the edge of the South Santiam River. When the water reaches the powerhouse, it creates a pressure of approximately 1,050 pounds per square inch. The single Gilkes 34-inch twin-jet horizontal Pelton wheel and generator rotates very fast at 1,200 RPM and generates 4.96 MW.

Project Name Falls Creek
LIHI Certificate No. 4
LIHI Certificate Term June 3, 2017 - June 2, 2025
Owner Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, LLC
State Oregon
Location Located at river mile 2.3 on Falls Creek, 25 miles east of Sweet Home, in the Willamette National Forest, Oregon
Installed Capacity 4.9 MW
Average Annual Generation 15,200 MWh
Facility Type Run-of-river
FERC No. P-6661 exempt 1983

The generator output is controlled by the amount of water entering the diversion structure at the top. The greater the quantity of water that enters the intake structure, the higher the generator output. The plant can be monitored, and re-started if necessary, via remote control. Power is generated for transmission via PacifiCorp’s local distribution lines. Tailwater from the Project discharges into a steel culvert with a metal grate on the downstream end to prevent fish access. The water then travels through a small chute of exposed bedrock and discharges into the South Santiam River near river mile 57.5.

The project operates in run-of-river mode when sufficient inflows are available. Water is diverted from a small pool created by the diversion, roughly 0.5 acre. The project provides a 1-cfs minimum flow in the bypassed reach to protect downstream aquatic resources. This flow regime was developed using an analysis of daily stream flows across a 20-year period. The data showed natural inflows in July - October range from 1 to 4 cfs at the diversion point. This regime has been approved by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Falls Creek is a small stream with average stream flow of 16 cfs. Stream flow is frequently below 1cfs during the months of July, August, September, and October. The project does not operate during low water months and uses this time period for routine and preventative maintenance. Most of the water used for power generation comes from rainfall in the fall and winter and snow runoff in the spring. The amount of stream flow during these periods is frequently greater than 50 cfs, and occasionally exceeds 200 cfs. The project draws about 26 cfs of this flow.

Waters within the project reach are not listed for any impairments. Below the diversion, Falls Creek continues to run several miles further to the South Santiam River. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) has listed this river as impaired for exceeding temperature criteria. However, ODEQ has noted that the project is not contributing to the impairment as the entire penstock is buried, allowing little opportunity for significant water temperature related issues.

The bypassed reach runs 2.3 miles to the South Santiam River. This section of the creek is very steep, containing no anadromous fish (salmon or steelhead). Along this stretch, only a few trout live in pools formed by falls. During project operation, sufficient water remains in Falls Creek beyond the diversion to maintain these pools. Falls Creek does support trout habitat but very few individuals are found in the project area due to the steep gradient of the river. The very lowest portion of Falls Creek supports winter steelhead and spring-run Chinook salmon as the gradient eases near its downstream connection to the South Santiam River. A screen in the tailrace prevents fish from entering the tailrace pipe. Resident species are limited to brook, rainbow, and cutthroat trout.

The project lands consist of around 6 acres entirely on National Forest lands. The project was built to be as inconspicuous as possible. An earthen berm was installed around the project with native shrubbery and trees for camouflage and to deaden project noise, ensuring it would not carry across the river to nearby recreation areas. No part of the project area is designated by the US Forest Service (USFS) as having any significant ecological value.

Threatened or endangered species potentially present in the project vicinity include Winter Steelhead, spring-run Chinook salmon, and the Northern Spotted Owl. As mentioned above, the winter steelhead and spring-run salmon are not found in the project area, though potentially in the project vicinity several miles downstream at the lowest reaches of Falls Creek. Project operations are not expected to impact these species due to its run-of-river operations and minimum flow provisions. The Northern Spotted Owl may be found in the project area. The entirety of the project area is managed to have as little impact as possible. A 20-foot corridor was cleared of trees to install the penstock, but that corridor has completely recovered, and the penstock is buried under natural vegetation and herbaceous ground cover, saplings, and fallen logs so as to not demarcate the corridor. Invasive plant management occurs at the project and the owner voluntarily reduces noise levels further, when possible, in the spring through June to support owl nesting activities.

Historic resources in the project area include the Old Santiam Wagon Road, an historic road listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The project penstock crosses under this road. Maintenance and preservation measures for this resource are provided by the USFS Special Use Permit.

PLUS-Standard: The project owner has a history of proactive engagement with the community to enrich educational opportunities that are unique and relevant to the Project, to the LIHI Criteria, and more broadly, to foster appreciation of the importance of natural, cultural and historic resources preservation. For the last 25 years, project staff host area school children on a creative, fun tour of the project where they learn about hydropower in general, environmental resources, energy conservation, and the history of the local area. Project staff also conduct tours and campfire presentations for visitors to the nearby National Forest campground.

No formal recreation facilities are provided at the project. The steep gradient of the waterway precludes access for water recreation. The project was designed to blend in with its surrounding environment and not impede nearby recreation amenities in the Willamette National Forest. This included painting buildings a forest color, painting any shiny metallic surfaces, and planting native understory vegetation around the project to screen the project from the nearby campground. Public access is provided free of charge.


Certification History

July 26, 2018 – The 30-day appeal window for the preliminary certification decision of the Falls Creek Hydroelectric Project closed on July 21, 2018 with no appeals to the decision received. The decision is therefore final and the Falls Creek Hydroelectric Project is recertified for a term from June 3, 2017 through June 2, 2025.

The Falls Creek Project was able to receive an 8-year term due to their PLUS Standard (going above and beyond in one or more LIHI Criteria):

The Project Owner has a history of proactive engagement with the community to enrich educational opportunities that are unique and relevant to the Project, to the LIHI Criteria, and more broadly, to foster appreciation of the importance of natural, cultural and historic resources preservation.  For the last 25 years, Project staff host area school children on a creative, fun tour of the Project, hydropower in general, environmental resources, energy conservation, and the history of the local area.  See https://lebanon-express.com/news/local/power-play-lebanon-fourth-graders-tour-hydroelectric-plant/article_ef17315f-089d-5777-b119-3a5d7c8d6b79.html for recent activity.  Project staff also conduct tours and campfire presentations for visitors to the nearby National Forest campground.

June 21, 2018: The Low Impact Hydropower Institute (LIHI) has preliminarily approved the Falls Creek Project for a new 8-year term of Low Impact Certification.

This decision is preliminary pending the 30-day appeal window. Only those who commented in the initial application 60-day comment period are eligible to file an appeal. Such appeal needs to include an explanation as to how the projects do not meet the LIHI criteria. Appeal requests can be submitted by email to comments@lowimpacthydro.org with “Falls Creek Hydroelectric Project” in the subject line, or by mail addressed to the Low Impact Hydropower Institute, 329 Massachusetts Ave, Suite 2, Lexington, MA 02420. All requests will be posted to the website and the applicant will have an opportunity to respond and any response will also be posted. Requests must be received by 5 pm Eastern time on July 21, 2018.  The full application and reviewers report are available at the bottom of this page.

If no appeal requests are received and the decision becomes final, the new term for the Falls Creek Project will be June 3, 2017 through June 2, 2025.

January 30, 2018:  The Low Impact Hydropower Institute has received a complete application for a new term of Low Impact Certification for the Falls Creek Hydroelectric Project. The Project is located on Falls Creek, 20 miles east of Sweet Home, in the Willamette National Forest, Oregon. The complete application can be found below.  LIHI is seeking public comment on this application.  Specifically, we are interested in knowing whether you think the Falls Creek meets the LIHI Low Impact Certification Criteria, as revised in the 2nd Edition Handbook.  Please review the program and criteria in LIHI’s revised Handbook and then review the Project’s 2018 application materials posted on the Project page.

Comments that are directly tied to specific LIHI criteria (flows, water quality, fish passage, etc.) will be most helpful, but all comments will be considered.  Comments may be submitted to the Institute by e-mail at comments@lowimpacthydro.org with “Falls Creek Comments” in the subject line, or by mail addressed to the Low Impact Hydropower Institute, 329 Massachusetts Avenue, Suite 2, Lexington, MA 02420.  Comments must be received at the Institute on or before 5 pm Eastern time on March 31, 2018 to be considered.  All comments will be posted to the web site and the applicant will have an opportunity to respond.  Any response will also be posted.

January 26, 2018:  The Falls Creek Hydroelectric Project has been granted another extension of the current term through April 30, 2018.

November 28, 2017: The Falls Creek Hydroelectric Project has been granted an extension of the current term through January 31, 2018.

May 30, 2017:  The Falls Creek Hydroelectric Project has been granted an extension of the current term through November 30, 2017.  See extension letter below. 

July 12, 2012: The Falls Creek Hydroelectric Project continues to meet the Low Impact Hydropower Certification Criteria, and has been recertified for a five year term, beginning June 3, 2012 and expiring June 3, 2017.

August 17, 2007: The Falls Creek Project has been recertified as low impact, continuing to meet LIHI’s eight environmentally rigorous criteria.  The Board’s vote to re-certify Falls Creek was unanimous. The effective certification date is May 1, 2007.

June 3, 2002: The Falls Creek Hydroelectric Project has become the first hydropower facility in Oregon to earn LIHI’s Low Impact Hydropower Certification. It is certified for a five year term, effective June 3, 2002 and expiring June 3, 2007.