SKOKOMISH (July 23, 2004) — A federal order that requires Tacoma Power to increase water flows on the north fork of the Skokomish River will help repair essential spawning and rearing habitat for threatened fish, says the Skokomish Tribe.
On June 21, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission amended a new license for Tacoma Power’s Cushman hydroelectric project in Mason County. As part of that order, FERC granted a motion by the Skokomish Tribe requiring Tacoma Power to promptly begin releasing a minimum water flow of 240 cubic feet per second (or inflow, whichever is less) into the north fork of the Skokomish River. FERC had previously only required 60 cfs, and exempted Tacoma from releasing more water during appeals.
“FERC’s ruling will begin re-establishing fish habitat that has been lost for 75 years,” said Dave Herrera, fisheries director for the Skokomish Tribe. “This is just another step toward repairing critical spawning and rearing habitat for struggling fish populations in the area. This is good news for all the communities along Hood Canal.”
Puget Sound chinook salmon, Hood Canal summer chum salmon and bull trout are all listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act; and all three are present in the Skokomish River watershed.
A big reason for the decline in those fish populations is the loss of habitat due to the Cushman hydroelectric project. Built in the early 19th century, the hydroelectric project’s two dams completely block fish passage to habitat. The project also dried up the north fork of the river for nearly 75 years, degrading habitat that once sustained runs of salmon and steelhead.
Before the arrival of non-Indian settlers, the Skokomish Indians, and their predecessors the Twana, lived in seasonal camps and winter villages throughout Hood Canal. One of the tribe’s largest villages was located on the north fork of the Skokomish River, where salmon were plentiful, said Herrera.
Several state and federal agencies supported the Skokomish Tribe’s motion to increase flows on the north fork of the Skokomish River. FERC’s ruling states that costs associated with increasing flow and repairing habitat for threatened fish will have “minimal effects” on consumers.
The Cushman hydroelectric project’s license expired in 1974, and Tacoma has been in the process of relicensing the two dams since then.
“Tacoma has been operating this project since the early 1900s without any habitat protection measures in place,” Herrera said. “FERC’s ruling is a step toward changing that. It’s time for Tacoma to improve its hydroelectric operation in a way that will help recover these threatened fish stocks.”
For more information, contact: Dave Herrera, fisheries manager for the Skokomish Tribe, (360) 877-5213, [email protected]. Darren Friedel, information officer for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 297-6546, [email protected]