Latest CBB News | Archives | About Us | Free Newsletter




Latest CBB News
Council Hears Report On Best Ways To Pass Salmonids Above High Head Dams Such As Grand Coulee
Posted on Friday, November 18, 2016 (PST)

A white paper that evaluates the best and most up-to-date ways to pass salmon and steelhead beyond dams that have historically blocked passage will be ready for the public, as promised, by the end of 2016.


Northwest Power and Conservation Council staff gave a preview of the final white paper at this week’s Council meeting in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.


The white paper was released for public comment in July, receiving 26 sets of comments that have been incorporated into a final product. Comments came from Council members, federal and state agencies, tribes, utilities and customer interest groups. While the document is mostly complete, Council staff says that some formatting will be needed before its final release by the end of the year.


One comment received “loud and clear” is that the white  paper should serve as a research document, but that there should be no policy recommendations from this process, said Laura Robinson, program implementation and liaison specialist with the Council Fish and Wildlife Division.


The purpose of the white paper is to identify and evaluate the current methods and emerging technologies of various fish passage systems used either at high-head dams or those that could be applied to dams of any size and capacity, according to Council staff.


The Council’s 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program calls for an evaluation from passage studies at high head dams where both juvenile and adult fish passage have been successful. The Program says that the Council should “Evaluate information from passage studies at other blockages and from previous assessments of passage at Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams.”


See the Council’s 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program, “Reintroduction of anadromous fish above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams to mainstem reaches and tributaries in the United States,” at


A $200,000 habitat evaluation by the Spokane Tribe of Indians is in progress. Some $100,000 of the cost for that evaluation was provided from cost-savings identified by the Council’s Cost-Savings Workgroup from fish and wildlife projects administered by the Bonneville Power Administration that are either closing out or reducing expenditures in fiscal year 2016.


“In this paper, which can be viewed as a corollary to that evaluation, Council staff evaluates information from passage studies at Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee, and at other dams where fish passage has been studied or completed. Included in the evaluation are dams in Washington and Oregon, on the border of Oregon and Idaho, and in California and Pennsylvania,” the white paper says.


Focusing on passage at Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams, Bill Booth, Idaho Council member, said that predation should be elevated to one of the key considerations in the report.


“I feel strongly that the predation issue needs to be addressed before introducing a species,” Booth said. “(Salmon) is a species that hasn’t been in Lake Roosevelt for years. This is a very critical part and I didn’t see it in the paper.”


“In addition, the economic issues will have to be considered,” he said. “When we talk about Grand Coulee, we should get a better idea of the economics (of the reintroduction) well ahead of time.”


“While not specific to Joseph or Coulee, it is in the (2014 Council) Fish & Wildlife Program to take a look at feasibility,” Tony Grover, director of the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Division. “Lots of discussion will have to occur before reintroduction.”


Dams evaluated in the white paper have at least 175 feet or more of hydraulic head and are at least 230 feet high, or they must be using emerging technologies that can be considered at other large-scale projects.


Among the dams evaluated are Baker, Brownlee, Chief Joseph, Conowingo, Cougar, Detroit, Fall Creek, Grand Coulee, Merwin, Pelton Round Butte, Shasta and Swift.


“Review of Fish Passage Technologies at High-Head Dams,” while not final, is available on the Council website at


According to Robinson, more than 55 percent of the spawning and rearing habitat once available to salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River basin is permanently blocked by dams. Some of the owners of those dams have explored ways to reintroduce salmon and steelhead and the report draws on the lessons of fish passage they’ve learned.


The paper explores six concepts in planning for fish passage at high-head dams, the paper says.


1. Allow adequate time for evaluations and feasibility studies. For example, Swift Dam on the Lewis River allowed plenty of time to evaluate fish passage. Beginning studies in 2004 at the already constructed dam, fish facilities were not installed until 2012, and then time had been allotted once fish passage was built to see if there was a need for adaptation, Robinson said.


2. Do not evaluate or compare existing fish-passage projects on the basis of cost, as variations in site characteristics and the age of passage systems make cost comparisons inaccurate


3. Understand and account for differences in site characteristics.


4. Stay up to date with passage technologies, as fish passage technology is evolving and improving. New technologies studied include the helix passage system proposed at Cle Elum Dam, flow attractors for juvenile surface collection, such as those on the Cowlitz River and the Pelton-Round Butte complex of dams on the Deschutes River, or the Whoosh Tube now being used by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Yakama Nation at the Washougal Hatchery and at Roza Dam.


5. Collaborate with project owners, regulators, fish and wildlife agencies, tribes, scientists and interested parties as it can be critical to successful, large-scale anadromous fish passage projects.


6. Consider developing a science-based decision framework for new projects to help organize and assess all the biological, environmental, hydraulic, technical, and economic data for a range of passage alternatives under consideration at each site.


“You need an adaptive management framework,” said Jim Ruff, a consultant for the Council. “A key concept is to understand and account for the differences in the site characteristics. Each site is unique and that may be more important than identifying similarities.”


“These systems are expensive,” Ruff added. “One size does not fit all.”


Also see:


-- CBB, July 22, 2016, “Council Evaluates Fish Passage Systems That Might Be Used At High-Head Dams Blocking Salmonids,”


-- CBB, April 15, 2016, “Council Votes To Move Forward On Salmon/Steelhead Habitat Assessment Above Grand Coulee”


--CBB, March 11, 2016, “Council FW Committee Moves Forward On Salmon Reintroduction Study Above Grand Coulee,”


-- CBB, Feb. 5, 2016, “Washington Legislature Considers Memorial For Salmon Re-Introduction In Upper Columbia Blocked Areas,”


-- CBB, December 18, 2015, “Council Moves Proposal For Evaluating Salmon Habitat Above Grand Coulee To Science Review,”


-- CBB, October 16, 2015, “Can Salmon, Steelhead Survive Above Grand Coulee Dam? Council Investigation May Provide Answer,”


-- CBB, September 18, 2015, “Council Moves Ahead With Plan To Assess Potential Salmon Habitat Blocked By Grand Coulee,”


-- CBB, Jan. 16, 2015, “Tribes Lay Out Process For Investigating Feasibility Of Salmon Reintroduction Above Grand Coulee Dam”

Bookmark and Share


The Columbia Basin Bulletin, Bend, Oregon. For information or comments call 541-312-8860.
Bend Oregon Website Design by Bend Oregon Website Design by Smart SolutionsProduced by Intermountain Communications  |  Site Map