Steelhead Habitat Use and Reclamation Operations in the Yakima River, Washington

Project ID: 1125
Principal Investigator: Cathy Karp
Research Topic: Ecosystem Needs
Funded Fiscal Years: 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007
Keywords: None

Research Question

Steelhead was recently listed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) as a threatened species. Several Reclamation offices are currently in consultation to determine impacts from project operations because it is believed that blockage of migration routes and alteration of flow, temperature, and sediment regimes have directly affected migratory fish like the steelhead. However, basic biological data are lacking for the species and much of the above stated beliefs are derived from other anadromous species.

Our research question is:

* How does managed water operations (storage and delivery) affect adult steelhead habitat (including access to spawning reaches, flow needs, dam ladder use, outmigration) in the upper Yakima River?

Need and Benefit

Conflicts between maintaining reliable water deliveries and providing water for aquatic species are becoming more numerous and more problematic. Often, there is little or no available biological information and this can make some water management decisions very challenging, especially in drought years. Poor decisions can hurt both the water users and the natural resource (e.g., steelhead). To reduce or avoid costly legal action (specifically a jeopardy opinion ruling) in the Reclamation Yakima Office (central Washington), we are working with adult steelhead in the upper Yakima River to better understand their basic biological and hydrologic needs.

Steelhead, a migratory fish that requires both marine and freshwater environments to complete its' life cycle, was listed as threatened by NMFS in 1999. This ruling could potentially impact Reclamation because steelhead use many of the coastal rivers in the Pacific states and Northwestern United States that contain Reclamation dams. The Yakima Office in central Washington is involved in a consultation with NMFS to determine impacts of operations on steelhead. Steelhead enter the Columbia River in the spring/summer and move into the Yakima River (central Washington) in late fall through winter to spawn. In 2003, we began to study movements and habitat use of adult steelhead above Roza Dam to answer the following questions:

* Which habitats do adult steelhead use for spawning?

* Are fish able to ascend the Roza Dam fish ladder and other fish ladders in the upper system or are they delayed?

* Can postspawned fish return to the ocean (pass through Reclamation dams safely) or are they delayed and killed by dam gate closure?

Contributing Partners

Contact the Principal Investigator for information about partners.

Research Products

Independent Peer Review

The following documents were reviewed by qualified Bureau of Reclamation employees. The findings were determined to be achieved using valid means.

Steelhead Movements in the Upper Yakima River Basin, 2002-2006 (final, PDF, 2.7MB)
By Walter Larrick
Report completed on April 01, 2009

We studied movements and spawning behavior of adult steelhead, Oncorhynchus mykiss,
in the upper Yakima River, Washington, from fall 2002 – spring 2006 using
radiotelemetry. During this four year period, a total of 675 wild adult steelhead (about
6.4% of the Yakima River steelhead run) ascended Roza Diversion Dam, and of these,
451 were gastrically implanted with a 6-month radiotransmitter. Adult steelhead were
observed migrating past Roza Diversion Dam from September through June, although

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Last Updated: 6/22/20