Hatchery to drive salmon upstream due to dam construction delay
August 27, 2013
By Peter Clark
With the Issaquah Creek dam renovation falling behind schedule, trucks will take spawning salmon upstream.
For a number of reasons, some vague, the project completion date has been pushed back from Sept. 15 to sometime in early to mid-October. That will heavily interfere with the spawning run of returning chinook and coho salmon. As a contingency, Issaquah Salmon Hatchery workers will gather the fish, truck them to a point beyond the construction and return them to the creek.
Dam construction began May 1. Workers from SNC-Lavalin have shored up the creek and torn out the 60-year-old stone dam. They will install a new intake structure for the hatchery and build a new, gentler fish ladder.
When will construction finish?
“As far as right now, there is no definite answer for that,” Kirk Reid, SNC-Lavalin project site foreman, said. According to him, the construction schedule was laid out by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife before the engineering company was chosen for the contract. Reid said the delay was caused by “unknown conditions and a changing of conditions.”
Project Manager Tim Ward, with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Issaquah’s Surface Water Manager Kerry Ritland were more detailed about the delay.
“It’s proceeding along, though we’ve had a couple of hiccups,” Ritland said. “They ran into some asbestos concrete pipes and had to dispose of some fragments. Things will just take a little bit longer. We’re probably not going to meet our Sept. 15 deadline.”
Ward gave more reasons for the delay.
“Right now, we’re probably at the halfway point,” he said. “Part of the problem is the ground is wetter than the contractors anticipated. We’re very conscientious of how the contractors are handling the weirs.”
He explained that creeks rise and fall seasonally. The construction timeline depended on how quickly the creek sank for construction to begin. Due to a wet spring and a good snow pack from the winter, Ward said that left the contractors with a wetter creek floor than expected.
Consider the long-term benefit
The new structure is expected to last another 50 or 60 years. Ward said trucking some fish was always in the plan. He said early arrivals would need to move upstream and they expected to transport some salmon. Still, the lengthened timeline affects the project’s bottom line.
“It’s made the budget tight,” he said. “We have a contingency, but we’re very aware of it and always are trying to make adjustments.”
Funded by the Legislature-approved Jobs Now program, he said the cost of the project is now $3.1 million. He was unwilling to divulge the amount of the contingency fund.
Washington Fish and Wildlife biologist Aaron Bosworth did not express much concern over the future of the migration path or the health of spawning fish. According to him, trucking salmon is a semi-regular occurrence across the state to deliver fish to fertile spawning grounds.
“My opinion is there wouldn’t be any harm done to future migrations,” Bosworth said. “We do that in other areas and truck them very extensively. They’re pretty hardy.”
He cited Baker Lake as a regular spot for trucking as the department carries fish up the Skagit River. Regarding the Sammamish watershed and returning fish, he said though the chinook is a threatened species and the coho is one of concern, local populations continue to be healthy.
“That particular area is fairly robust,” Bosworth said of Issaquah Creek. “Anything we can let go upstream would be surplus population.
“Overall, this restoration project will be a benefit to the chinook and the coho,” he said.
Not an ideal situation
But Issaquah Salmon Hatchery Director Darin Combs said although planners included trucking the salmon as a contingency in the dam renovation project, it is not an ideal situation.
The hatchery will be primarily responsible for loading the salmon into trucks and releasing them back into the creek. Due to weirs placed in the creek, all salmon will make their way through the hatchery, so capturing the traveling fish will not be a problem. However, it is a multifaceted project, Combs said.
Fortunately, it will not be his first experience with the practice. He worked in the Tokul Creek Hatchery, where trucking salmon occurs annually. He said it was “pretty good practice” for this season’s challenges and that his team was putting together a full strategy to move the salmon upstream.
“We’ve got a site picked out already,” Combs said. He will take the salmon 5 miles east on Front Street/Issaquah-Hobart Road for a 10-minute drive. “A landowner was gracious enough to let us use her land. We’re still formulating the plan of how to get the fish from truck to creek.”
He said the hatchery can use a large tanker truck, holding 800 gallons of water. With one trip, he estimates workers can transport 40 fish. Alternatively, he has access to two smaller trucks with two totes each, which could carry 15 fish each. Combs expects to truck the salmon at least one day a week until the creek reopens.
The state sets a number for the hatchery of both chinook and coho salmon it is responsible to spawn in a season. Though the state has yet to declare that number, 1,000 fish must travel upstream. Combs said he hopes he does not have to truck the full thousand, but if it comes to it, he will.
“It’s not going to be a quick process,” he said. “I will have at least one anther person from another hatchery and we will have some volunteers help as well. The volunteers are going to be very important.”
Hatchery will pay for trucking
Financially, the state has orchestrated the project, choosing the contractor and working to set the deadlines. Combs still has yet to work out exact financial logistics, saying he wants to stage a few test runs, which will provide firm numbers. However, he confirmed that the funds for the trucking, man hours and operations costs would come straight from the hatchery’s budget.
“That has come up on a couple other occasions,” he said about the added weight on the hatchery’s finances. “Maybe some money will come in from somewhere else.”
Ward maintained that the financial strain would not be large on the hatchery. Some trucking was planned in the budget.
“It should be a minimal impact,” Ward said. “If we have money left over, then we’ll push it back to them.”
Jane Kuechle, executive director for the Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, said the renovation will ultimately be beneficial for the fish, but this season her organization will have a much greater need for volunteers.
“It’s a lot of intensive work and the fish are real delicate because they’re at the end of their life,” Kuechle said. “We’re really going to need more volunteers.”
Normally, the hatchery only calls on volunteers to spawn salmon once a week during the season, but this year, Kuechle said they would try for a second day per week. Without the ability to let fish move upstream on their own, she had concerns about the speed with which the hatchery could move the ones stopped at the facility.
She found the delay unfortunate, but took the long view of its impact.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing, but there are some upsides to it,” she said. “Any hatchery that has any construction on their stream will have an impact. Next season will be great.”
Combs said much the same.
“It’s not ideal to be handling and holding fish during spawning season,” he said. “But if you do it carefully, it doesn’t have to be that harmful.”