Monday, August 26, 2019
Before the Grand Coulee Dam completion in 1942, the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery was commissioned to mitigate a small portion of the effects of the dam on fisheries and the peoples who depended on those fisheries.
Assuming the size of the problem created by Grand Coulee Dam is proportional to the amount of watershed cutoff from salmon and steelhead spawning grounds and looking at the modified map above (Interesting facts about the Columbia River), the fish spawning habitat loss looks to be between 30 and 40%. The watershed cutoff starts upstream from the Methow River (really, the Chief Joseph Dam, built after the Grand Coulee Dam and doesn’t have a fish ladder, is the next upriver dam).
From today’s perspective, neglecting to include fish ladders on dams on rivers with significant salmon and steelhead spawning grounds would not work politically. The 1930’s, when these decisions were made, were a very different time.
While trying to find the watershed size of the Columbia River upriver from the Grand Coulee Dam (see Woodie Guthrie Connection), I ran into a reference to a song I learned in the second grade. Roll On, Columbia, Roll On. I had no idea in 1967 that the troubadour of changing times was the creator of my beloved Columbia River song. Even though I was born and raised in Seattle, I often spent summers and holidays with family who lived within sight of that mighty river. The song personified the greatness of the river and the promises of riches the river brought to those who lived within the desert made green farming areas plentiful irrigation water created.
The fish hatchery takes female fish carrying eggs and male fish ripe with sperm, extracts the eggs and sperm from the fish, then mixes the eggs and sperm together. Then it is a matter of raising the baby fishes to a size where their survival rates are good and releasing them into the environment.
In four years, the fish return to where the were released and the cycle begins again. Love is in the air.
Some of the fish are released from the hatchery and return up the hatchery’s fish ladder ending up in holding tanks. When ready, the fish are plucked out of the tank and eggs and sperm harvested.
We visited on the Monday before Labor Day. There were no guided tours available. Instead, there were single page self guided tour copies on a gate and in the main building where the offices were.
In addition to offices, the main building also has a number of fish tanks for the baby fish.
We would have benefited from a guided tour. Some of the signage was clearly dated and no longer represented current practices. A tour guide could have better stepped through the fish life cycle and how the hatchery fits into that life cycle.
In addition to the Woody Guthrie song and the lack of fish ladders on two key dams, there were some other gems learned from visiting the fish hatchery. The Methow River passing by Winthrop Washington and the location of the hatchery, is named after the pre-European peoples called the Methow. The Methow peoples name for the river translates to Salmon Falls River. Seems somehow symbolic.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!