Nearly 30 miles of fish habitat will soon open up to long-awaited salmon returns in Central Washington.
For centuries, the water of the Cle Elum River nourished the bodies and souls of the Yakama Nation.
"Almost any event they have salmon as the mainstay of the feast with all
the events, religious, weddings, funerals," said Yakama Chief Research Scientist David Fast.
That salmon now comes from hatcheries. Wild salmon disappeared from this part of the Cle Elum river when it was damed. The Cle Elum dam has choked migration for about a hundred years. Irrigation needs took precedent over fish until the Yakama sued over treaty rights.
Now, construction is underway for $130 million in fish passage renovations, all aimed at reducing the stress of fish movement past the dam.
"They eat up their energy so that's their body reserves. The more stressed these fish are the less likely they're able to complete their life cycle by spawning," said Cle Elum Fish Passage Project Manager Richard Visser.
An underground passage tunnel will allow juveniles to swim out safely, but getting adults up a concrete wall will require a different approach.
"The shiny part is an insulator to keep heat off the tube itself," Visser explained.
Whooshh is a new fish transport technology.
"What we have here is a single tube woosh volitional fish passage system," explained Jim Otten, Whoosh Chief Engineer. "We send the fish through our accelerator and into the tube. Once they're into the tube, about 45 seconds until the top of the dam at the nice calm
reservoir at the top."
Time is everything for fish transport - the less of it, the less stress. Whooshh is still in a trial period but there's hope it might help restore the 200,000 sockeye that once spawned here.
The upstream area offers 29 miles of fish habitat.
"So people are very excited about the potential to have large numbers of sockeye coming back to the Yakima as well as the other species," Fast said.
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