CHELAN - Chelan County PUD biologists and engineers have received the “salmon stamp of approval” for their $16 million project to add nesting habitat and restore year-round flow to the Chelan River.
“The fish approved,” PUD fisheries biologist Steve Hays told commissioners Monday, of the 250 chinook salmon nests, called “redds,” observed last fall in and around the new habitat area.
An aerial photo taken last fall of the habitat area shows a river bottom virtually covered by the whitish redds.
Each redd can produce some 5,000 fish that will eventually migrate to the ocean to mature and then return in several years to spawn.
The project involved building a new stream from the ground up at the lower end of Chelan Gorge, near the dam’s powerhouse.
The area contains gravel, vegetation and stream flow that fish like for spawning. Water is released from the dam through an underground conduit to keep the flow constant. A pumping system just upstream of the habitat area ensures optimal flow during spawning season.
“We’re just thrilled that it actually works,” said PUD fisheries biologist Jeff Osborn in a phone interview Tuesday. “You never know what the fish are going to do. To actually see them come in and use it and have successful spawning. It’s like, wow, we’ve really provided a tremendous benefit to this species. … It makes all the negotiations and meetings worthwhile.”
Steelhead, an endangered fish, may find their way to the new habitat as well.
Osborn says the next big chinook spawning season will happen from mid-October to mid-November. Public viewing is ideal from Powerhouse Park in Chelan Falls and from the old Chelan Falls Highway bridge that crosses at the powerhouse tailrace, he said.
The PUD was required to undertake the Chelan River Project for its license to operate Lake Chelan Dam and powerhouse. The dam had interrupted year-round flow through the gorge since the 1920s.