Oregon Senators Announce $5 Million To Tribes To Restore Sockeye Habitat Connectivity At Wallowa Lake Dam

Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden have announced a total of $5,041,495 million from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will be awarded to the Nez Perce Tribe, in partnership with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and other partners, to restore sockeye salmon habitat connectivity at the Wallowa Lake Dam in northeast Oregon.

“Sockeye salmon are important not just to the culture of the CTUIR and Nez Perce Tribe but to the entire Pacific Northwest,” said Merkley, who chairs the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which funded the program. “So we all owe a debt to these tribes, who are helping restore the 100 year old Wallowa Lake Dam to restore sockeye salmon populations in Northeastern Oregon. This federal funding will help increase river flows, which will benefit not just the fish populations, but nearby communities as well through increased recreation opportunities, the protection of drinking water sources, and support for ranchers and growers during times of droughts.”

“This $5 million federal investment to restore sockeye salmon in Oregon’s northeastern corner marks a significant win for fish and the tribes working hard to build back this natural connection,” Wyden said. “This win for the Wallowa Lake Dam also will ripple out into gains for recreation, clean water and river flows that will help ranchers and farmers to weather droughts.”

NFWF announced nearly $91 million in grants through the new America the Beautiful Challenge, funded by the Infrastructure Law and other federal conservation programs and private sources. This $5,041,495 grant will enable a collaboration among two federally recognized Tribes, an irrigation district, and the State of Oregon to complete rehabilitation of the Wallowa Lake Dam to balance rural community resilience and economic benefit with improved aquatic habitat connectivity for at-risk fish through engineering and construction at the high-hazard dam to connect hundreds of miles of sockeye salmon spawning habitat. 

Merkley and Wyden sent a letter to NFWF’s Chairman, J. Michael Cline, spotlighting their support for the Wallowa Lake Dam Rehabilitation and Wallowa River Restoration Project:

Dear Chairman Cline:

We write to express our support for the Wallowa Lake Dam Rehabilitation and Wallowa River Restoration Project in rural Wallowa County, Oregon, for which the Nez Perce Tribe is applying for $5 million in grant funds through the America the Beautiful Challenge (ATBC).

With ATBC funds, the Nez Perce Tribe will have crucial funding to assist partners with rehabilitation of the over 100 year old Wallowa Lake Dam and ensure that fish passage is incorporated. The Nez Perce, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation have together been pursuing restoration of Sockeye as part of a comprehensive salmon restoration program in northeastern Oregon. Wallowa Lake Dam is owned and operated by the Wallowa Lake Irrigation District (WLID). With tribal and state partners, WLID seeks to rehabilitate the dam so that it restores reservoir capacity for irrigated agriculture, protects downstream communities from flooding, and supports fish that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The project will have landscape scale benefits and boost climate resiliency in Northeast Oregon. The addition of fish passage for Wallowa Dam will restore access to hundreds of miles of pristine spawning habitat in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, the largest designated Wilderness Area in Oregon. Further, up to 5,000 acre feet (AF) of water will be released from Wallowa Lake, of which 4,500 AF will be protected to the Oregon-Washington state line as a secondary instream

water right. The additional river flows will also enhance outdoor recreation opportunities in this stunning corner of Oregon. In addition to supporting salmon during their critical summer spawning and migration period, the project will help farmers during drought, and protect drinking water for local communities.

Thank you for your full and fair review of the Wallowa Lake Dam Rehabilitation and Wallowa River Restoration Project. Should you have any further questions, please contact Jessica Keys in Senator Merkley’s office at (541) 278-1129 or Kathleen Cathey in Senator Wyden’s office at

(541) 962-7691.


Jeffrey A. Merkley

United States Senator

Ron Wyden

United States Senator

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