A dam repair project initiated by some enterprising Skamania County landowners in conjunction with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board is expected to help recover threatened chum salmon while giving residents back their 22-acre lake for summer recreation.
Some 60 landowners spearheaded the Duncan Creek Dam project near Beacon Rock, chipping in $3,500 each to get it started. WDFW and the Recovery Board then worked with the citizens to obtain grants for the remainder of the $575,000 project, which will improve fish passage.
"This is an inspiring example of how local citizens went the extra mile and made a difference for fish and for people," said Dr. Jeff Koenings, director of WDFW. "These citizens have been more than dedicated - there were many places along the way where frustration could have stopped them, but they made a commitment and just kept working."
"This project also signals that lead entities like the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board, located in watersheds throughout the state, can successfully generate the political will to recover salmon," Koenings added. "The operation of Duncan Creek Dam will now help to recover lower Columbia River chum salmon, instead of contributing to their extinction."
The 120-foot-long Duncan Creek Dam was constructed in the early 1960s and was modified a few years later to include a culvert so fish could migrate through it. But chum had a difficult time locating the passage, and the number of the salmon returning upstream of the dam to spawn dropped dramatically. Prior to dam construction, peak annual chum counts in Duncan Creek were approximately 500 fish; after dam construction, the numbers quickly dropped to one or two fish every few years.
In 1998, it was estimated that fewer than 2,000 chum salmon returned to the Columbia basin to spawn, spurring the federal government last year to list the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Steve Manlow, a habitat biologist with WDFW, said there are only three key spawning and rearing streams for chum between the Bonneville Dam and the ocean, and that restoring Duncan Creek may make a significant difference for chum salmon which will be able to return for spawning in the prime spring-fed habitat above the lake bed.
Nearly six years ago, the community, situated on Duncan Creek and the dam reservoir, Shahala Lake, looked into designing a repair for the dam when it was deemed unsafe by the Washington Department of Ecology. During the permitting process, community members learned from WDFW that the dam would need to be modified to include effective fish passage.
The landowners then agreed each would pay $3,500 toward the repair project, and worked with WDFW and the Recovery Board over the next three to four years to obtain grants totaling $375,000. Grant monies came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administered by the Governor's Salmon Recovery Office; Salmon Recovery Funding Board administered by the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board; the Department of Natural Resources Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account; the Bradley Fund for the Environment based in Wisconsin; the Sand County Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
When completed, the problem culvert will be gone. The dam will have a 10-foot-wide vertical slot with a fiberglass gate that can either be maneuvered to control water elevation to restore the lake seasonally, or left open entirely to allow the creek to pass through when fish are migrating. The landowner association will operate the gate under the direction of the WDFW.
"This process can be used as an example of how things are supposed to work," said Andy Jansky, a landowner who also is an associate with KPFF Engineers in Portland, Ore., the firm that took on the construction job. "People can get organized and work with government to get things done."
The project is scheduled to be completed in November, at which time the dam will be operated for fish passage. Each year, the dam will be operated as a lake from June through September, then it will revert to fish passage again until June.
Photos of the construction project are available on the KPFF Engineers web site.