PDN: Jamestown S’Klallam, Agencies Discuss Pre-Drought Conditions in Dungeness River

During a recent community meeting in Sequim, a panel of weather, fish and wildfire scientists came together to discuss how this winter’s low-snow pack will affect the Dungeness River Valley this summer.

Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe Natural Resources Director Scott Chitwood discussed the potential impacts to the salmon that will be returning this year, including an expected 1.3 million pink salmon.

From the Peninsula Daily News:

“What are we going to do about getting those fish from point A to point B?” asked Scott Chitwood, the director of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe’s Natural Resources Department.

“We are going to monitor them. We want to make sure these fish can get to the spawning rivers.”

“With a record estimated return of pink salmon to the Dungeness and record-low flows — that is not a good combination.”

Challenges include “choke points” in the Dungeness River, Chitwood said.

If the river gets too low, for instance, it may run underneath the riverbed at some points.

“These are the conditions that we want to try and avoid,” Chitwood said.

Small man-made dams also act as artificial checkpoints.

“When the flows go down, these can start blocking fish in the river, and that is a real issue for us” during drought years, Scott said.

State employees and volunteers routinely remove the small dams one rock or log at a time. That has started for this year.

If more is needed to ease fish passage, man-made channels can cut into the riverbed and be lined with plastic.

“Whatever we can do to deepen water across those rivers — those efforts can work,” Chitwood said, noting that such measures have been used in the past successfully, including during a significant drought in the fall of 1987.

“We were putting sandbags across the rivers 1 or 2 feet wide, trying to channel the water down this chute,” he said.

“It did work to get fish from below to above a problem river.”

Another option is to allow fewer fish to get into the river by thinning out their ranks in July or August through sport fishing efforts at the mouth of the Dungeness River, Scott suggested.

The last resort would be to trap fish and haul them in tanks upriver, Chitwood said, adding that many fish do not survive such a trek.