The reintroduction of salmon and steelhead above two dams on the upper Columbia River is a viable option, according to a new report that will be presented Tuesday to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.
Fish haven’t been able to make it past north-central Washington’s Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams since 1942.
The council has been trying to bring back fish to areas blocked by dams since the 1980s — when it’s feasible.
The Upper Columbia United Tribes say transporting fish around the two dams is possible — although it may be difficult at first. The tribes are just now starting feasibility studies.
Matt Wynne is the Upper Columbia United Tribes chairman.
“This is a long time overdue. Up above Chief Joe and Grand Coulee, we’re the least mitigated and the most impacted,” Wynne says.
Wynne says there needs to be water quality and temperature testing to see if salmon and steelhead can survive. He says the biggest question is flood control draw downs at the Grand Coulee dam.
“We’re concerned that the draw downs, which they do every year, is going to cause a lot of the premature juveniles and the eggs to be washed out downstream,” Wynne says.
Cost another concern, but Wynne says trapping and trucking salmon around the dams will benefit tribes and recreationalists. The tribes are conducting an economic analysis, which is expected to be completed sometime this year.
Wynne says one other reason to help fish reach the Upper Columbia River: the waters there will be much cooler and more habitable for salmon as climate change warms waters downriver.
After the feasibility studies are finished by the end of 2016, the tribes will start tests.
Right now, they are thinking about using salmon from the Chief Joseph hatchery, which have been used to help restore runs in Washington’s Okanogan County. The tribes would likely trap and truck salmon around the dams.
Tom Karier is a member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.
“I think it’s going to be a long process of trying to figure out, first of all, what the research program looks like, and then implementing it,” Karier said.
Wynne says seeing fish above the Grand Coulee Dam is a dream.
“So many of our kids don’t really have a lot of their own people’s culture to hang onto any more. To give something back like that, I would be very honored to do that for both the Spokane people and the Colville,” Wynne said.