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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Spokane

No help planned for stranded fish

Time and water are running out for an unknown number of fish trapped in a canal near the Grand Coulee Dam.

Bass, walleye, trout and carp are trapped in the 1 1/2 mile-long canal that spills irrigation water pumped from Lake Roosevelt into Banks Lake.

The Bureau of Reclamation has closed gates on either end of the concrete canal to conduct once-a-decade maintenance. Dale Singer, a power plant operator with the federal agency, said no measures have been taken to save the stranded fish.

“It’s very unprofessional,” Singer said. “There could be a few hundred to thousands of fish.”

The canal is typically about 20 feet deep. On Wednesday, it was chest-deep, with the water dropping by more than a foot a day. Singer expects the canal to be dry by Saturday and the fish to be dead.

Singer said he asked agency officials to allow volunteers to corral the fish. They could be hauled by bucket or net over a two-lane road and dumped into Banks Lake.

“I told them there’d be no problem getting people,” Singer said.

A project manager with the Bureau of Reclamation referred all questions to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Department spokeswoman Madonna Luers said the state’s main interest is in patrolling the canal for illegal fishing during this time of lowering water.

“It’s not really a situation that we’re, as an agency, concerned about,” Luers said.

The Grand Coulee Dam prevents any threatened or endangered ocean-going salmon from living in the canal system, Luers added. Threatened bull trout are also absent from the waters.

The last time the canal was drained, a bucket brigade was able to save some of the fish. Singer, who has no decision-making power over the canal maintenance project, said his employer is merely passing the buck.

Estimating the number of fish in the canal would be difficult, said Ken Cates, an officer in a local conservation group, Promoters of Wildlife and Environmental Resources. The nonprofit group raises fish each year for Banks Lake – 210,000 kokanee and rainbow trout are being raised this year. The group also installs a floating net each year in front of South Dam to keep fish from being flushed out of the lake.

The number of fish in the canal at any given time depends on the speed of the current, said Cates, of Grand Coulee.

“They could have all been flushed out of there. I just don’t know how many fish are in there,” he said. “I’ve also got a suspicion that a lot of those fish may be fish people don’t really care about, like whitefish and carp.”

After 9/11, the Bureau of Reclamation increased security measures around the dam, including restricting access to some prime fishing sites near the canal, Cates said. The canal is now surrounded by a fence and buoys, but some people still cast lines over the security fence.

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