State funds replacement for problem-plagued hatchery dam

April 24, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Local residents (right) on a hike April 22 with FISH docent Grace Reamer visit the 1930s-era Issaquah Creek dam. By Greg Farrar

The “damn dam” — a concrete gauntlet for migrating fish upstream from the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery — is due for replacement next year, after state legislators scraped together funding for the $4 million project.

Plans call for crews to demolish the aging dam and add boulder weirs in Issaquah Creek.

The project, a long-held priority for local and state leaders and environmentalists, could start as soon as next spring. The $4 million appropriation in a lean budget surprised hatchery supporters.

“We had been struggling for years in the belief that state funding, because it was scarce, wasn’t going to happen in an amount big enough to do the project,” Mayor Ava Frisinger said April 22, after state and city officials announced the appropriation at a 75th anniversary celebration for the hatchery.

Frisinger also serves as Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery president.

Built in the 1930s and overhauled in the 1960s, the dam acts as a barrier for salmon and other fish to about 11 miles of Issaquah Creek and tributary habitat upstream. Councilwoman Eileen Barber, a longtime FISH member, referred to the structure as the “damn dam” — a headache for environmentalists and salmon.

The shelf-like apron on the dam blocks adult salmon attempting to migrate upstream to spawn. The fish, marooned on the structure, die in large numbers on the dam each year.

“The design that has been done replicates the natural setting and provides wonderful access for fish to go at least 10 more miles upstream,” Frisinger said.

Doug Hatfield, hatchery operations manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife region encompassing Issaquah, said the agency needs to acquire permits from multiple agencies before the project can start, although plans call for work to start as early as next spring.

Sara LaBorde, special assistant to the director at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, credited FISH for spearheading the effort to replace the dam.

Supporters struggled for years to secure funds for the project, as the state stumbled through budget crises and earmarks — another potential source for dollars — came under scrutiny in Congress.

In the past, the city cobbled together state and federal grants to conduct the design and engineering phases. The city, Department of Fish and Wildlife, local agencies and FISH contributed local match dollars.

“Most recently, we’ve made huge steps in the funding realm, and given this economy, that’s incredible,” LaBorde said at the April 22 event.

Plans also call for crews to replace the water-supply intake from the creek to the hatchery — another trouble spot.

In November 2006, almost 200,000 juvenile coho salmon died at the hatchery after leaves clogged the intake, cutting water flow to the hatchery and causing the dissolved-oxygen content to fall too low for the number of fish in the pond.

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