Within the span of several decades; dams, revetments, drainage control, and irrigation projects were constructed on the Willamette River to enable agriculture and suburban development to expand onto the historic floodplains of the river. Dam building followed abruptly from the Willamette Valley Project of 1938, which culminated in a series of multi-purpose projects. By 1970, every major tributary of the Willamette river had at least one flood control project so that the entire river basin was regulated by a total of 13 reservoirs. The multi-purpose projects reduced flood peaks, supported high summer flows and provided hydro-electric power to inhabitants of the river valley. The result being that the Willamette river's main channel, flow, and ecology were forever changed by the industrial use of the river.
Dams on the Willamette River have significantly impacted the vitality of anadromous Salmon, Steel Head, Sturgeon and Eel populations on both rivers. Between the 1860s and 1960s, commercial fisheries annually harvested millions of pounds of fish. Since the 1950s, the combined consequences of dams, ocean deterioration of stream and river habitats, increased commercial ocean fishing, and changing river and ocean conditions have made Northwest rivers and their tributaries less and less habitable for anadromous fish. Steep declines in native fish populations have made hatchery-raised species the dominant species of anadromous fish in the Willamette river. Presently, upwards of 80 percent of the commercially caught salmon are hatchery fish. Fish hatcheries began operation in the basin in 1877 and became a major mitigator of dam-related salmon declines during the late 20th century. In 1992, the government listed the native Snake River Sockeye Salmon as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and in 1998 the Willamette Steelhead joined the list of endangered fish. This body of work is a post-industrial survey of the landscapes and forms of a modern day Willamette River valley.
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