City Council decision advances dam project

July 10, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Plans to replace a problem-plagued dam upstream from the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery surged ahead July 2, as City Council members steered dollars to complete designs for a proposed replacement.

Crews intend to add boulder weirs to Issaquah Creek and demolish the dam, perhaps as early as next spring.

The legislation approved by the council increased city dollars for the project by $268,700 from the $155,000 municipal leaders initially set aside in the 2012 municipal budget for the replacement. Now, after the council decision, the total amount in the budget is $423,700.

The city dollars come from grants Issaquah received to complete the project.

The legislation also authorized Mayor Ava Frisinger to forge a pact between the city and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The aging dam is about a half-mile upstream from the hatchery — a structure Councilwoman Eileen Barber referred to as the “damn dam” at a 75th anniversary celebration for the hatchery in April.

In April, Gov. Chris Gregoire approved $4 million for the project. The appropriation in a lean budget surprised local conservationists — and jump-started the stalled project.

Built in the 1930s and overhauled in the 1960s, the dam blocks salmon and other fish from accessing about 11 miles of Issaquah Creek and tributary habitat upstream.

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 there each year.

“It does have a little fish ladder on it, but because of erosion and changes over time, it’s been pretty ineffective in recent years,” city Surface Water Manager Kerry Ritland said.

The project, a long-held priority for local and state leaders and environmentalists, could start as soon as next spring. Crews can only work in the creek during a short period in the spring and summer as fish activity slows.

“It’s very important that we move forward this season with this particular piece, because we need to get the final design, the engineering and any other small pieces necessary done this year, in 2012, because there is a very limited fish window in which you can actually be in the streams and working,” Barber said before the decision.

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.

Before the unanimous decision July 2, council members asked Ritland questions about flood control and sediment issues related to dam removal. The dam does not provide any flood control.

Kristi Tripple, a Rowley Properties executive, urged council members to pass the legislation.

“The Issaquah Creek dam has been an ongoing discussion and planning effort for the last five years, but even more so, something that many have been agonizing about how to fund and approve for the last decade or more,” she said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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