Reintroduction of Anadromous Fish to the Blocked Areas of the Upper Columbia River. Downstream Movement and Survival of Juvenile Salmon in the Upper Columbia River Basin

Project ID: 23015
Principal Investigator: Mike Horn
Research Topic: Fish Passage and Entrainment
Funded Fiscal Years: 2023 and 2024
Keywords: None

Research Question

The overarching question is, can salmon be reintroduced into the blocked area? The questions being asked in this study are what is the fate of juvenile salmon passing downstream through various reaches of the blocked zone? This research seeks to gain greater insight into proportions of fish lost in each reach, how they behave near the dams, and to identify possible other hotspots of mortality. The S&T portion of this study will seek to bring more focus to passage at Grand Coulee through increased numbers of tagged fish being released upstream of the dam. Results from this study will further inform feasibility, be used to validate or update assumptions used in life-cycle models with better data than was available previously and help to design more intensive juvenile salmon survival and passage studies expected to occur later, however, the values used for LCM assumptions were based on literature values for downstream populations and were not collected using empirically based site-specific studies.

Juvenile survival and passage through Lake Roosevelt has been identified as one of the critical uncertainties in the reintroduction effort. This research has been identified as the next step to inform additional activities to make progress towards reintroduction. The purpose of the proposed study is to help reduce modeling uncertainty by collecting site-specific migration and passage survival data to update LCM inputs and to confirm resultant conclusions regarding anadromous reintroduction feasibility and success. Additionally, the precision of resulting survival estimates generated from the pilot study may be sufficient to guide decision making regarding the need for, and location of, juvenile fish passage facilities at Chief Joseph Dam and Grand Coulee Dam.

Need and Benefit

At the turn of the 20th century, salmon runs into the upper Columbia River watershed supported the culture and livelihood of indigenous peoples and provided an immeasurable ecological benefit throughout the region. Upon completion of multiple hydroelectric facilities including Grand Coulee Dam in 1941 and Chief Joseph Dam in 1961, salmon runs were extirpated from the upper Columbia River and sovereign tribes experienced a complete loss of their way of life. An estimated 11% of steelhead, 15% of spring Chinook, 17% of summer Chinook, 14% of fall Chinook, and 65% of the basin's Sockeye production originated upstream of Chief Joseph Dam. The Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT) – which include Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Kalispel Tribe of Indians, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and Spokane Tribe of Indians – with support from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), have initiated an extensive investigation into the reintroduction of anadromous fish to accessible habitats upstream of Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dam In 2015, the Columbia Basin Tribes and First Nations developed the Joint Paper "Fish Passage and Reintroduction into the U.S. and Canadian Upper Columbia Basin" (CBTFN 2015) to inform the federal governments, and other sovereigns and stakeholders on how anadromous salmon can be reintroduced into the upper Columbia River Basin. This paper outlined a phased approach to reintroduction which was further refined and adopted by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NPCC) in the 2014 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. The intent of this approach is to pursue reintroduction using the knowledge gained and successful outcomes derived from sequential phases of research and evaluation as listed below:

1. Restore naturally spawning and hatchery-based runs of Sockeye and Chinook Salmon into the upper Columbia River basin, above Chief Joseph, Grand Coulee and Canadian dams to meet native peoples' cultural and spiritual values and benefits for all, including subsistence and harvest opportunities.

2. Establish and increase ceremonial and subsistence, sport and commercial fish harvest opportunities for all communities and citizens along the Columbia River in the U.S. and Canada – for the benefit of all.

Information must be collected to document reservoir survival, migration travel time, migration success, and dam passage survival of both juvenile and adult salmonids. Additionally, identifying where fish concentrate near dams is important for siting collectors that will likely be required to effectively pass fish at high-head dams in the system.

Reclamation is participating in an established forum with Tribes, States, and other Federal agencies discussing potential reintroduction of anadromous fish into areas above Grand Coulee dam. The forum's Studies and Actions workgroup has identified this study as the next logical step in addressing critical uncertainties, and it would inform the feasibility and logistical details of continued reintroduction efforts. The overall effort is a very large, complex, and long-term concept. It is important for Reclamation to be involved because these activities directly affect our facilities and stakeholders. Research would answer critical uncertainties surrounding feasibility of salmon above Grand Coulee dam and explore implications for Reclamation facilities and operations. Funding through the S&T program would ensure Reclamation an opportunity to select aspects that are most critical to our interests, such as increased focus on fish behavior and survival near Grand Coulee dam and have a lead role on researching those uncertainties.

Contributing Partners

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Research Products

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Last Updated: 6/22/20