Architectures of Hybrid Migrations

Although very likely not submitted to this year’s Animal Architecture Awards, the design for the “Selective Water Withdrawal Tower” on The Deschutes River could have been a candidate for the prize, or at minimum, a poignant contribution to forums discussing “the myriad issues arising from the complex interactions between animals and human society“, and how such interactions tend to co-shape one another.

The Round Butte Selective Water Withdrawal Tower is a 270′ underwater tower designed to perform multiple functions that assist challenged fish migration within a dammed river system.  As a fish collection and passage device, the tower actively alters the flow of currents within the constructed reservoir, channeling ocean-bound migratory fish into its conveyance system (see minute 3:40 in this animation).  Acting as an industrial sieve or subsurface turnstile for the dam overflow, the entire volume of the river is screened as it passes through it, allowing only those individuals that are deemed appropriate for right of passage.  Once screened, the fish are placed in a stream of awaiting taxis that transport them below a series of 3 dams; a service that must be replicated in reverse direction when the anadromous fish make the return trip back upstream.  Without this anthro-logistical service, migrating fish would be forced to run the gauntlet of the dam’s power generation mechanisms to get to sea, which has proven to be akin to passing through an aquatic meat grinder.

As the tower selectively withdrawals water from the reservoir’s surface, it simultaneously attenuates elevated water temperatures – a typical water quality problem with constructed reservoirs.  Additionally, intakes at the tower’s base are able circulate cool water from the bottom of the reservoir with water layers near the surface, thus effecting the overall downstream quality of the Deschutes River.The theory informing the project was tested, and the design subsequently modified, based on its performance in a series of  hydro-lab trials (minute 5.00 here).  Construction of the tower was its own logistical feat of engineering (keep going in the video to see).

As animal architecture, designing for fish is fraught with theoretical eddies, mainly the technics of control and the processes to fish are involuntarily subjected – all the flumes, filters, pumps and tanks they pass through without choice. Equally complex as the design are the motivations and massive funding behind them.  Non-federal and privately held hydroelectric infrastructure is programmed and coded into rivers through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s 50 year licensing requirements.  Every half century a dam reveals its culturally shifting relationship to the larger systems it spans.  At such times the infrastructure either upgrades and evolves to meet new science-based metrics and legislative codes (or sets the bar, as we see here), or is otherwise surrendered and meticulously erased from the landscape.  Either trajectory is illustrative of dynamic and co-evolving fields of inseparable nature-culture hybrids;  Latourian quasi-objects par excellence in which water, political process, law, science, data, engineering, infrastructure, and collections of species are systemically embodied.

-All images courtesy of Portland General Electric-


  1. I wonder how this type of advanced engineering science meshes with the worlds of migration and how the determination of which fish to allow to migrate and which to reject is not modifying the system that it is trying to preserve?

  2. Yeah – no doubt it modifies those migration systems in a variety of particular ways. But then again anadromous fish migration, as it currently exists, or what remains of it in the Pacific Northwest, is almost an entirely manufactured and deeply anthropologically influenced system; a particularly costly one.
    Steps like these seem a interesting turn or implication given the two choices at hand: remove the dam infrastructure or upgrade the infrastructure for fish passage. Dam removal attempts to roll back the human influence on the system in a whole-scale sort of way, significantly altering the course of the last 100 years or so. Upgrading tends to increase the hybridization between species (as I think you are highlighting) via technology in places where the infrastructure is deemed as necessary. Either trajectory has a long cascade of repercussions that are qualitatively very different.

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