New hatchery dam hinges on federal grant
June 16, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
City officials and environmentalists are waiting to hear whether the city will receive federal stimulus dollars to improve salmon habitat and the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery. Officials said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was set to announce grant recipients by mid-June.
The proposal aims to replace a dam that serves the hatchery with a structure friendlier to migrating salmon. The option to remove the dam, construct a series of boulder weirs and replace the intake hinges on more than $4 million in state and federal dollars.
The dam is located on Issaquah Creek about a half-mile upstream from the hatchery. A fish ladder blocks salmon and other fish migrating upstream.
“The existing fish ladder is very substandard,” city Surface Water Manager Kerry Ritland said.
Friends of the Issaquah Hatchery Executive Director Gestin Suttle said the project would improve the creek and make it easier for migrating salmon to pass. FISH is the volunteer group that runs educational programs at the hatchery and assists hatchery workers.
Suttle said many adult salmon become marooned and die each year when they jump onto the concrete apron at the base of the dam. She said the apron resembles a shelf.
Upstream, past the dam, “there’s a lot of great habitat beyond that,” she said.
More than 10 miles of salmon habitat exists upstream. Suttle said some fish make their way upstream to spawn despite the obstacle.
Ritland also noted the quality of salmon habitat above the dam.
“The system can take a lot more, but the dam up there is limiting that,” he said.
The hatchery was built as a federal Works Progress Administration project in 1936. Ritland said the original dam was overhauled in the 1960s. Suttle noted advances in the study of fish behavior and improved fish ladder designs since the last update.
“They didn’t know as much as they know now about fish behavior,” she said.
The dam and intake structure face other problems, too. When Issaquah Creek flooded in January, trees toppled near the intake and damaged a fence.
The $4 million would cover costs to design, permit and build the project. About $800,000 in state dollars has been earmarked for the project.
In April, city officials applied for a NOAA grant to cover the rest. If the city receives the grant, the project would take about two years to complete. Ritland said construction would have to be spread out in order to take advantage of the “fish window” — weeks when the work would be less likely to interfere with salmon activity.
If NOAA officials pass over the hatchery for a grant, Ritland said officials would seek other sources of funding. Because of the project’s cost, he said officials would likely try to net federal money.
On June 1, City Council members adopted goals for 2010 that include completion of the dam and intake project. Ritland said the proposal, like many long-term city projects, might not materialize next year because it depends on outside funding.
In March 2008, the city received a $400,000 Salmon Recovery Funding Board grant from the state Recreation and Conservation Office. The city, state Department of Fish and Wildlife, local agencies and FISH provided the required 15 percent local match for the grant, bringing the total to $470,000.
Planners conducted a study last year and evaluated several options for improving fish passage at the dam. The options ranged from adding a new fish ladder to demolishing the dam.
Planners selected an option that would remove the dam and replace it with a series of weirs that allow fish to pass through. The weirs would be fashioned from boulders. A new water supply intake structure would be built as well. The intake would supply water to the hatchery.
Nearly 200,000 year-old coho salmon died at the hatchery in November 2006 after leaves blocked the intake, cutting water flow to the hatchery and causing the water’s dissolved-oxygen content to fall too low for the number of fish in the pond.
Ritland said the proposed intake structure would limit the amount of sediment flowing to the hatchery. He said an airburst system would automatically remove debris from the intake screens. With the existing intake, workers have to trek to the intake to brush leaves from the screens each fall.
Engineers prepared a 1/16-scale model of the fish passage and a section of Issaquah Creek; Suttle watched a demonstration of the model last month at a SeaTac lab. She described the proposal as an advance over the existing structure.
Northwest Hydraulic Consultants, a Seattle firm, built the model to show how the weirs and intake structure would work with the creek. The model was used to help engineers determine how the structures would hold up in conditions ranging from summer base flow up to conditions similar to a 100-year flood.
Doug Hatfield, the state hatcheries operations manager for the region that includes Issaquah, said the Issaquah hatchery plays an important role in protecting salmon stocks in the middle of urbanized King County.
“We want to recover fish populations to the extent that they’re healthy,” he said.
Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.