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Mouth of Millrace sports new screens.

Byline: JEFF WRIGHT The Register-Guard

New fish screens installed this week at the mouth of the Eugene Millrace should be good news for both fish and humans.

The University of Oregon has spent $200,000 to install the new stainless-steel screens where the millrace's intake pumps intersect with the Willamette River, just west of the Knickerbocker Bridge and Interstate 5 and east of the River Ranch restaurant on Franklin Boulevard.

The screens, required by the National Marine Fisheries Service to address declining salmon populations, have holes the width of a pencil lead - small enough to keep salmonoids from being drawn into the pumps.

But the new screens should also be a boon in terms of improving the millrace's aesthetics and water quality, said Nick Williams, the UO's environmental manager.

"From an aesthetic point of view, we want to make sure there's plenty of flowing water (in the millrace) that's as clean as the river, with no debris," Williams said. "We want to make sure the ducks (downstream) have a healthy place to be."

If dreams of opening up now-covered portions of the millrace ever materialize, the new screens should help ensure adequate water volume and quality, Williams said.

The screens have been added even though there's little evidence that the millrace has ever served as salmon habitat, Williams said. "The habitat we're trying to enhance and support is in the Willamette River," he said.

The intake upgrade has fallen to the university because of an agreement signed by city and UO officials in 1968, in which the university agreed to take responsibility for filling the millrace with water and operating the pumps. The university has water rights at that location, Williams said.

Brown Contracting of Springfield has raced to install the screens in just a few weeks, Williams said. On Thursday, workers removed a temporary steel-and-fabric dam that had been erected so they could put down a concrete pad and install the six screens onto large steel pipes.

A small amount of water was diverted throughout the project so the millrace didn't go dry, Williams said.

The millrace has depended on pumped water since the 1950s. The previous intake screen allowed debris and animal life up to a quarter-inch in size. Also, river water used to reach the millrace via one intake opening instead of six, which meant faster currents that could overwhelm salmonoids, Williams said.

The near-completion is good news for bicyclists and runners who have been blocked from using the bicycle path that runs next to the pumps and railroad trestle leading to Knickerbocker Bridge. The path, closed for weeks, should reopen this afternoon, Williams said.

The final task is to install an "Air Burster" compressor system onto the pumps that will backblow against the screens to eliminate algae, leaves or other debris that might collect on them.

The new screens are simultaneously low-tech and state-of-the-art, Williams said.

"It's all part of sustainability planning and having as little impact on the environment as we can," he said. "We won't have to send anyone into the river to clean things. The only thing we're throwing back into the river is air."

CAPTION(S):

BRIAN DAVIES / The Register-Guard The completion of work on the Eugene Millrace screens will reopen nearby recreational paths along the Willamette River. STEPHANIE BARROW / The Register-Guard
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Title Annotation:Pumps: Work brings safer travel for salmon, cleaner water for people.; Environment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 18, 2002
Words:550
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