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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

July 24, 2011 at 8:11 AM

Lewis River salmon and steelhead will benefit from two fish passage projects

Two major fish passage projects on the Lewis River will open up about 117 miles of salmon and steelhead habitat while also preserving the southwest Washington river’s emission-free energy resources.

“It is amazing to think that the Lewis River fish now in the ocean will return to their native river and have miles and miles of new habitat open to them after 2012,” Todd Olson, program manager said in a news release.

“To meet our regulatory requirements, construction of these projects is necessary at this time. Unfortunately it comes with an inevitable level of disruption to those who visit Swift reservoir. With awareness and safety always in mind, people can still enjoy the majority of recreation activities and we will do what we need to do for migrating fish.”

Combined, the two projects will allow migrating fish to avoid the obstruction of the three dams on the Lewis River and still return to historic spawning grounds.

“Completion and operation of these new projects is expected to increase the number of salmon and steelhead naturally produced in the Lewis River Basin,” Pat Frazier with state Fish and Wildlife said. “PacifiCorp has done a good job of working with the WDFW and the Aquatic Coordination Committee to design the new facilities; it took a lot of work. This is an important step towards the recovery of ESA-listed spring chinook, coho and winter steelhead in the Lower Columbia River.”

The Swift Reservoir Fish Facility, located on the uppermost reservoir, will create flow conditions to attract out-migrating fish, typically juvenile salmon and steelhead, and adult steelhead. Once the fish are collected, they will be sorted at the facility for transport to the lower Lewis River downstream of Merwin Dam near the city of Woodland.

At the foot of Merwin Dam, adult fish migrating upstream will be attracted to a fish ladder entrance by river water coming out at a steady stream, mimicking a natural current that leads the fish upstream and away from the powerhouse outflows. The fish will follow this current up a short fish ladder ending in a basket and hoist system that delivers the fish to a holding pen and sorting facility. The fish will be sorted and loaded onto specially designed trucks that will transport them upstream of the dams to be released where they can spawn naturally in the Lewis River and its tributaries.

The work is being completed as part of the operating licenses granted to PacifiCorp and the Public Utility District No. 1 of Cowlitz County by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2008 after a lengthy settlement process involving more than two dozen agencies, tribes and local groups.

The fish passage projects, which together will cost the utilities about $110 million, are the most prominent work underway, but the ongoing commitment encompasses wildlife enhancement, recreation and flood management.

PacifiCorp is investing more than $12 million in protecting and enhancing wildlife habitat for a broad range of big game and other species in the Lewis River watershed. In 2010, the company purchased roughly 1,000 acres of land to protect elk habitat and is looking to acquire additional land ownership or habitat management easements.

PacifiCorp operates 14 parks and day-use facilities along the Lewis River and on the shores of the Merwin, Yale and Swift reservoirs. These facilities are used by a half million people each year and demand for these popular facilities is increasing.

The company is investing more than $20 million in capital improvements over the coming decades, which include parking, recreation equipment, construction of new shelters, replacement of docks, improvements to boat launching facilities, new restrooms and expansion of camping facilities.

Improved shoreline campsites accessible only by boat will provide new experiences for campers. New trails will be developed and emphasis will be placed on making many facilities accessible for the disabled.

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