Vantage, Wash. - When fish managers at the Grant County Public Utilities District (PUD) Discovered they had only weeks to redesign fish ladders on the damaged Wanapum Dam, they started writing down ideas on napkins. The one they chose is currently being used by migrating salmon to continue their 700 mile journey up the Columbia River to their spawning grounds.
“It’s been a rollercoaster ride,” said the PUD’s Fisheries Scientist, Russell Langshaw. “Nobody even envisioned the design you see here until Early March.”
It took a desperate effort to complete a makeshift chute that would shorten the fall for salmon travelling up the fish ladder and dropping out on the upstream side. The change was necessary after managers were forced to drop the level of the water behind the dam. They needed to take pressure off the structure after a large crack was discovered on the base.
Migrating salmon were just weeks away and moving upstream in large numbers. By the time they reached Wanapum they would have travelled 560 miles. Impeding them would not only be a problem for upstream tribes and communities, it would violate federal laws protecting the listed wild salmon.
Langshaw and his team nervously watched as the first salmon came up the ladder approached the hastily created chute.
“When that first one went over, we were all just saying ‘Yeah! It works! ‘” said Langshaw.