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Army corps ordered to improve fish passages

By Phuong Le Associated Press

SEATTLE – Federal fisheries biologists told the Army Corps of Engineers it must improve dam operations on the White River to protect endangered salmon, a report released Tuesday shows.

NOAA Fisheries found that too many migrating fish, including endangered Chinook salmon, can’t make it safely down the White River or to spawning habitat upriver above Mud Mountain Dam near Enumclaw, Washington.

The agency is requiring the corps by 2020 to build new fish passage facilities near Buckley to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act. It said the current structures are outdated, unsafe and routinely injure and kill endangered salmon, steelhead and other fish.

Brig. Gen. John Kem, the corps’ northwestern division commander, said the corps is committed to improving fish passage and meeting the requirements set out by NOAA.

The corps had committed to building the new facilities in 2007, but that hasn’t happened.

“Do I think this will get done? Yes, if we can persuade Congress to authorize the program,” said Will Stelle, NOAA Fisheries regional administrator.

Mud Mountain Dam, an earthen and rock-filled structure built in 1948, provides flood control for an area with more than 400,000 homes between Buckley and Tacoma. It was built without a fish ladder, so for decades the corps has been trapping and collecting migrating salmon at a diversion dam near Buckley and trucking the fish above the dam.

Tribes and conservation groups have raised concerns over tens of thousands of salmon dying below the dam.

The runs on the White River are crucial to the recovery of the species throughout Puget Sound, according to the NOAA report. The fish are also important to the recovery of endangered Puget Sound orcas that rely heavily on Chinook salmon for food.

Only about 80 percent of adult salmon survive on their migration upstream, while less than 20 percent of the juveniles survive the downstream journey. NOAA is requiring the corps to make improvements to boost that adult survival rate to 98 percent and the juvenile survival rate to 95 percent.

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