The Skokomish Tribe participated in a groundbreaking ceremony at Lake Kokanee this spring to celebrate the beginning of the construction of a new upstream fish passage facility and a new dam powerhouse on the North Fork of the Skokomish River.

The Skokomish Tribe and staff from the city of Tacoma release rainbow trout into Lake Kokanee to commemorate upcoming restoration work on the North Fork of the Skokomish River. (Skokomish Tribe)

The work is part of the effort to restore the health of the river and to rebuild and restore fish populations that have been impacted by the operation of the city of Tacoma’s Cushman Hydroelectric Project.

“Getting to this point has been a journey that we have fought long and hard for,” said Joseph Pavel, the tribe’s natural resources director. “We look forward to working with Tacoma and seeing the fish population benefit from restoration efforts.”

The fish passage facility will allow coho, steelhead, spring chinook and sockeye adult salmon to be released into Lake Cushman and the upper North Fork of the river, upstream from the city’s two fish-blocking dams.

This upstream passage plan is one of more than 20 plans that the city must design and operate or implement as part of a January 2009 settlement agreement between Tacoma, the tribe, and federal and state resource agencies. The plans will be designed to protect, restore and monitor habitat, restore salmon and steelhead populations, enhance wildlife, provide recreational opportunities, and protect water quality, endangered species and historical properties in and around the North Fork of the river.

The tribe also recently learned that Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied requests from Skokomish Valley landowners for a rehearing of FERC’s order incorporating settlement agreement conditions into the license, allowing the city of Tacoma to move forward with its plans to restore the Cushman area.

The dams were built on the river more than 80 years ago, providing electricity to the city of Tacoma but blocking salmon from the upper watershed. The dams reduced the North Fork Skokomish River flow to a trickle and altered the biology and geology of the river system, while also affecting the tribe’s culture and treaty-reserved fishing rights.