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New contract seeks safer turbines for fish

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Aging turbine engines will soon be replaced at the Ice Harbor Lock and Dam on the Snake River near Burbank.

Engineers will develop the first of a new generation of advanced hydroelectric turbines for the Federal Columbia River Power System to provide safe passage for fish, under a contract awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week.

The $10.9 million contract awarded to Voith Hydro Inc. of York, Pa., calls for design and manufacture of a new runner for an aging hydroelectric turbine at Ice Harbor Lock and Dam on the Snake River near Burbank. A runner is the part of a turbine that rotates in the water to generate power.

The contract, funded by the Bonneville Power Administration, calls for multiple design cycles using state-of-the-art computer modeling and tests with physical models to examine water flow and pressures. Private and government biological and engineering experts will collaborate in the design process, which is unique because it makes fish passage improvements a primary goal, ahead of power and efficiency gains.

"Our mission includes more than just generating power, it includes environmental stewardship of the nation's natural resources," said Witt Anderson, director of programs for the Corps' Northwestern Division.

"We want to take advantage of technology that wasn't around when the dams were constructed and design the most advanced runner available to help improve fish passage in the region."

The need to replace the Turbine Unit No. 2 runner at Ice Harbor presented the opportunity to pursue a new design with fish passage improvement as a priority. The Unit-2 runner has experienced numerous mechanical problems during its 30-plus years of operation. The benefits will extend beyond Ice Harbor, because several dams have turbines also nearing the end of their design life.

The Corps and BPA crafted this contract as a model to demonstrate a science-based runner design and development process that can also guide replacement of other aging turbines. Development and post-installation testing are expected to improve understanding of fish passage through the turbine environment, with potential application to other hydropower sites.

"It will take more work on the front end," said Mark Jones, BPA's manager of Federal Hydro Projects. "But we'll pave the way for upgrades at dams all through the Federal Columbia River Power System that provide the Northwest with renewable power."

The improved turbine components are slated for operation in 2015 and will help meet goals of the 2008 Biological Opinion that protects salmon and steelhead listed as threatened or endangered.

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