FCA’s Lessons Learned
Since 2006, FCA has installed Farmers Screens ranging from .25 cfs to 160 cfs in size in various terrain conditions for diverse water uses in Oregon, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. FCA analyzes all aspects of each project to evaluate and enhance every step of the process. During each step in the sales process, from how a project is determined to be suitable for a Farmers Screen (in terms of the topography and hydraulic site conditions, as well as the human element and the client’s ability to properly operate the diversion), to delivery and construction, to post-install monitoring and data collection, FCA staff work hard to find all of the opportunities to do things better. Because of this, FCA has refined the Farmers Screen technology, and how we do business.
Two projects in particular afforded FCA with many important lessons and have greatly improved all of the projects that followed. These were the Widows Creek and the German Gulch projects.
FCA is eager to share our lessons learned, as we feel it not only helps people understand our company’s open approach to developing this technology, but also provides useful information to others working in fish screening, river restoration, technology transfer, and new product development.
Lesson 1: Project planning must include the human element. When first evaluating a proposed site to determine its suitability for a Farmers Screen installation, the evaluation must include the human component. A site can look really good on paper but if an operator is not willing or able to operate the screen as designed, then the site is not a good fit for a Farmers Screen. It is essential to know the site history. The details of landowner/operator issues, previously implemented technologies, and water use are all important factors to consider. Though this may be difficult, one must identify all operators of a diversions and ensure that they all understand how to properly operate the system. Additionally, it is important to make the technology as impervious to manipulation as possible; ensure that operation manuals are created and distributed to all project partners both before and after project completion; and ensure operator trainings are completed before the first water is turned on to the screen.
Lesson 2: Make the vetting process transparent. Having a clearly articulated, detailed process for evaluating the site has proved immensely useful in saving time and money that could have been wasted developing projects for sites unsuitable for a Farmers Screen. Through the Fish Screening Oversight Committee (FSOC) of the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority, FCA was able to develop a detailed site selection process that is used to gather as much information about a site as possible and to determine if the Farmers Screen is a good fit for the site. FCA works to have a consistent, detailed, and documented project development process with inclusion and buy in from all project partners. We also have developed clear benchmarks that must be met, or a project would be rejected or referred to another technology.
Lesson 3: Sediment management. Many rivers and streams in the west have large volumes of sediment moving through them. It is very important to know what type and how much sediment will be encountered at a screen site. For example, at the Widows Creek projects, a forest fire had burned through the drainage for Widows Creek two years before the screens went in. No one expected a high sediment load, but the fire dramatically increased erosion in the upper reaches, which in turn increased sediment loads in the stream. The unexpected sediment loads caused build-up under the screens. A sediment management system was installed on the Widows Creek screens. All modular screens since have been built with the ability to easily install a sediment management system if necessary.
One failed experiment with sediment management on the Widows Creek screens involved a modification to install flush gates on the weir wall. The idea was that the flush gates would allow the operator to periodically flush sediment out from under the screens quickly and easily without affecting screen function. The problem with the design was that the flush gates could also be used to increase flow to the irrigator to the point that the screen could de-water under low flow situations, potentially harming or killing fish. The new sediment management system was then designed that could continuously process sediment and send it back to the stream without impacting screen function or creating the possibility of screen de-watering.
Lesson 4: Actual water use is often unclear. Available flows must be verified with all parties. It is essential to the extra mile to talk to all operators, the Watermaster, and anyone else who might have additional information. Attention must be paid to seasonal fluctuations to determine whether there is a possibility that insufficient flows late in the season might lead to improper screen function. Without adequate by-pass flow, the Farmers Screen won’t work properly.
Lesson 5: Previous screen failures provide valuable information. Often, at any given site, the Farmers Screen installation is replacing another screen technology that is not working. The replacement could be because the original device itself was faulty, but more often it is because that particular screen type was not well suited to the specific conditions of that particular site. With over 300,000 diversions in the western U.S. alone, a full portfolio of technologies is needed to properly screen the great diversity of diversions. Each diversion has a unique flow rate, bed load, aquatic species present, water use, flow variability, and potential for flooding, washouts, or other catastrophic events. To ensure the Farmers Screen is the best possible screening solution for each site, FCA strives to understand the root causes of any previous failures. We also work to understand the site history, the details of landowner/operator issues, and water use. To ensure success, FCA plans for the worst case scenario.
Lesson 6: Uniformity in project communications is helpful to all project partners. It is a rare occurrence that a Farmers Screen is sold as a simple transaction between a buyer and a seller. Almost universally, a new fish screen project involves several partners, including the landowner, the local watershed group, an engineering firm, agency staff, tribal groups, environmental groups, and funders. Uniform, clear communications among all project partners throughout the course of the project is critical to project success. In addition, it is important to clearly define roles and responsibilities, making sure everyone understands what they will be expected to do. FCA strives for transparency throughout the planning process – providing project partners every bit of detail and data that we can.
Lesson 7: Share your screw-ups and don’t give up. You learn more from failures than successes. Don’t be afraid to talk about what went wrong and what you learned. Don’t give up. Some projects will be difficult and time consuming. In the end it is always worth the time, effort, and expense to make a project right.