As the flow of the White River was held back by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Russ Ladley carefully searched for young salmon stranded in small pools. Unfortunately, most of the fish he found weren’t able to make it back to the river before the river’s flow dropped by two-thirds.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer slowly ramped down flow out of their Mud Mountain dam facility so repairs at another downstream dam (owned by the water utility Cascade Water Alliance) could take place safely.
“These fish-outs are a regular part of the regime here on the White River, because repairs are regularly needed at a diversion dam just upstream,” said Ladley, who is resource protection manager for the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.
The tribe were joined along a 20 mile stretch of the White by staff from the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and a handful of local, state and federal agencies.
As the water level of the river drops, most juvenile fish were able to find their way back to the deeper water in the middle of the river. But, some fish were stranded in side channels and isolated pools. “We found a good amount of stranded fish, wild Chinook, coho and steelhead that died in side channels and pools,” Ladley said. “We were also able to save dozens of other fish that would have otherwise perished.”
Currently the Corps of Engineers is considering a proposal to replace the entire facility at Buckley. “If they rebuilt that dam, there would be very little need to dewater the river in the future,” Ladley said. As it is, dam replacement will be completed in late l 2020.
Juvenile coho found in a small tributary:
The dewatering event in late winter this year stands in stark contrast to an event over 10 years ago that killed many more fish.
In the spring of 2003 more than 6,000 endangered juvenile chinook salmon died when the White River was dewatered quickly. “Six thousand dead juvenile chinook is a lot when you consider under 1,000 adult chinook came back to the White River that year,” said Ladley. Instream flow in the river was dropped from above 1,100 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 300 cfs in three hours.
This year, the same ramping took place over three and half days instead of just hours. “That 2003 event was a shock to the system that taught us a lot of lessons about what could go wrong during a dewatering event,” Ladley said.
“Unfortunately dewatering still happens because repairs are still needed regularly at Buckley,” he said. “When flows are reduced unnaturally dewatering over 29 miles of river, fish losses are inevitable. This is a chapter of White River management that we can’t put behind us fast enough.”
Timelapse of dam repair: