Fishhawk Lake drained

Fishhawk Lake Reserve and Community drained a reservoir in August 2019 to repair a drain pipe.

BIRKENFELD — The state has fined Fishhawk Lake Reserve and Community $439,200 for draining a reservoir and allegedly killing more than 30,000 fish. The homeowners association plans to appeal the fine.

Fishhawk Lake is a private community around a reservoir formed in the 1960s by an earthen dam. The homeowners association maintains the lake, processes water and treats sewage.

Fishhawk Lake

Fishhawk Lake north of Birkenfeld was formed in the 1960s after the construction of an earthen dam along Fishhawk Creek.

The lake, considered state waters, feeds into Fishhawk Creek and the Nehalem River. The homeowners association drained the lake in August 2019 to fix a broken drain in the dam.

An investigation by the state found that draining the lake and the turbidity it caused downstream killed 30,391 fish, including 20,539 endangered coho salmon, 4,047 steelhead trout, 5,346 cutthroat trout and 459 trout of undetermined species.

“The draining of the lake killed fish that were sucked through the underdrain to Fishhawk Creek by depleting dissolved oxygen in Fishhawk Creek,” the state Department of Environmental Quality wrote in a notice of penalty.

In addition to the penalty, the state directed the homeowners association to create a water quality management plan and a 10-year schedule for becoming compliant with standards for temperature and dissolved oxygen within the lake and creek.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking a separate claim against the homeowners association for the fish kill, but did not disclose the amount.

The homeowners association has argued that the state mandated the drain repair and was kept informed through the process. It also denied being responsible for a fish kill.

“DEQ has not substantiated their allegations that the mandated repair work resulted in the death of salmon and trout,” the association said in a statement. Fishhawk Lake “community members observed the lake draining and did not observe dead fish or scavengers that would substantiate the fish kill DEQ asserts.”

Fishhawk Lake “implemented specific measures to prevent fish mortality, including following the direction of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to conduct the work during the in-water work window.”

After floodwaters nearly topped the dam in 2007, the homeowners association was tasked by the state with building a new emergency spillway, along with improving fish passage.

The association is planning a $3.5 million project to build a new spillway over one side of the dam and tunnel a fish ladder through the other. It contends the project will prevent failure of the dam in a major flood and open 13 miles of salmon habitat upstream of the lake.

County and state leaders and agencies, including the Department of Fish and Wildlife, have backed the project. The homeowners association is applying for state and federal grants based on safety and the project’s benefits to fish passage.

“DEQ’s enforcement action puts that project at risk by seeking to divert community funding that could be used to continue efforts to implement this environmental project,” the association said.

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.