BELLEVUE, Wash.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Juvenile sockeye and coho salmon in the North Cascades’ Baker River watershed are migrating to sea this spring in record numbers, an occurrence fish biologists believe is attributable, in large part, to Puget Sound Energy’s broad salmon-enhancement efforts.
As of today (June 16), approximately 470,000 young salmon had been collected by PSE fisheries crews, trucked around the utility’s two Baker River hydroelectric dams, and placed back in the river for their instinct-driven journey to the sea. More than 341,000 juvenile sockeye and 127,000 young coho salmon had been collected for downstream transport. With about a month still to go in this year’s downstream migration, both tallies already eclipse the Baker River’s previous outmigration records: 289,000 for sockeye (set in 2006), and 79,000 for coho (set in 1989).
“The new numbers are very heartening,” said Paul Wiegand, vice president of Power Generation for PSE. “From year to year, a lot of diverse factors – Mother Nature is one – can affect fish populations. From what we see, the evidence suggests that the technology we recently built and deployed on the Baker is contributing, perhaps in a big way, to these record fish runs.”
In early 2008 PSE completed construction of a 1,000-ton “floating surface collector” on the Baker Lake reservoir. Together with an updated shore-to-shore, surface-to-bottom guide-net system, the collector is designed to attract, guide and safely capture young salmon for downstream transport around PSE’s two Baker River dams.
In last year’s inaugural season of operation, the $50 million-plus apparatus produced the highest outmigration collection rate on record for juvenile Baker River sockeye, and the second-highest overall collection total.
“We can’t identify any other notable contributing factors or changes, beyond the new floating surface collector, that would point to such dramatic outmigration success in consecutive years,” said Nick Verretto, a senior fisheries biologist for PSE. “These record-setting collections strongly suggest that our fish-passage systems are working extremely well.”
The National Marine Fisheries Service has called PSE’s new fish collector a model for other high-reservoir dam operators. Representatives from some two dozen domestic and foreign utilities have toured PSE’s Baker River operation, with several of them either exploring or actively pursuing fish-migration systems based on PSE’s system.
The new floating surface collector is a one-of-a-kind, 130-foot-by-60-foot barge equipped with a series of submerged screens, water pumps, fish-holding chambers, a fish-evaluation station, equipment-control rooms, and a fish-loading facility. Fine-mesh guide nets, extending from each side of the collector to the opposing lake shores and from the lake’s surface to its 280-foot-deep bottom, form an impassible netting funnel to lead small migrating fish to the collector facility.
PSE’s original, first-generation fish collectors on Baker Lake and Lake Shannon, dating to the 1950s, were much smaller than the new facility. While the old fish collectors were considered quite successful, for their time, in capturing juvenile salmon, their equipment had basically worn out. More importantly, greater understanding of juvenile sockeye biology and response to hydrological conditions led PSE and others to conclude that a new, more sophisticated surface-collector/guide-net system was needed.
PSE built the new floating surface collector on Baker Lake following several years of collaborative discussion and development with government resource agencies, Indian tribes, specialized design engineers, and other outside stakeholders.
In May, the National Hydropower Association bestowed one of its four 2009 Outstanding Stewards of America’s Waters Awards on PSE for the utility’s construction of the floating surface collector.
Government fisheries agencies expect PSE’s new Baker Lake fish collector, together with more than $100 million in other PSE fish-enhancement projects, to quadruple the Baker River’s already rebounding sockeye numbers. The newer projects include construction – currently underway – of a new Baker River fish hatchery, a new trap-and-haul facility for improved upstream migration of adult salmon, and enhanced sockeye spawning beaches.
PSE design of a similar floating surface collector is underway for installation on Lake Shannon, behind Lower Baker Dam, in 2013.
For more information about PSE’s fish-enhancement efforts and floating surface collector, and to see a video on its design and function, visit PSE’s Web site and click on the Energy & Environment tab.
About Puget Sound Energy
Washington state’s oldest local energy utility, Puget Sound Energy serves more than 1 million electric customers and nearly 750,000 natural gas customers in 11 counties. A subsidiary of Puget Energy, PSE meets the energy needs of its growing customer base through incremental, cost-effective energy conservation, procurement of sustainable energy resources, and far-sighted investment in the energy-delivery infrastructure. PSE employees are dedicated to providing great customer service and delivering energy that is safe, reliable, reasonably priced, and environmentally responsible. For more information, visit www.PSE.com.