States predict big salmon and steelhead returns this year

Columbia River salmon and steelhead runs should range from average to record-breaking in 2014 depending on the species, fish managers from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho reported to the Council in March. However, the drawdown of the reservoir behind the damaged Wanapum Dam on the Columbia River could affect flows and river levels downstream, including in the Hanford Reach where most of a predicted record run of fall Chinook salmon are expected to spawn. The drawdown also will affect the operation of adult fish ladders and the juvenile fish bypass system at the dam.

Flows in the mid-Columbia are regulated to protect fall Chinook in the Hanford Reach through an agreement among state and federal fishery agencies and the three public utility districts that own five mid-Columbia dams. Grant PUD owns Wanapum and the dam immediately downstream, Priest Rapids.

The reservoir behind Wanapum Dam is a “primary tool to provide the flows and river levels in the agreement,” Bill Tweit, special assistant to the director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the Council. He added that as long as the reservoir is drawn down the required flows cannot be achieved. “We are asking the other parties to the agreement to provide the water for the agreement,” he said.

The prediction for fall Chinook in 2014 is 1,399,000 fish, a record that would exceed the record run of 2013. The run is healthy and supports fisheries in the river and north to Alaska, and also helps maintain the integrity of the Hanford Reach ecosystem, Tweit said. “It’s a precious resource, and we strongly encourage other partners to the agreement to coordinate and compensate for the drawdown of Wanapum pool,” he said.

Meanwhile more than 30,000 fall Chinook are expected to return to the Snake River Basin this year, a number that is about 10,000 more than last year. There are more natural-orgin fish than hatchery fish in the run, Ed Schriever of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game told the Council. He said the “life-support system,” as he described it, for endangered Snake River sockeye is continuing to produce results, with a run of more than 1,000 fish expected over Lower Granite Dam, which would be an improvement over 2013.

Details of the states’ predictions are in a presentation posted here.