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It's all water over the dam -- but how and when it falls has huge impact on salmon
Date:2/25/2014

RICHLAND, Wash. By adjusting water discharges in ways designed to boost salmon productivity, officials at a dam in central Washington were able to more than triple the numbers of juvenile salmon downstream of the dam over a 30-year period, according to a study published Feb. 25 in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

"This is one of the most productive populations of fall Chinook salmon anywhere in the Pacific Northwest," said Ryan Harnish, first author of the paper and a fish ecologist at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "Much of this productivity can be attributed to the way in which operations of Priest Rapids Dam have been altered over the past 30 years."

The major point of the paper is simple: Keeping eggs and young salmon under water, especially at their most vulnerable times, boosts their survival.

"The timing of life stages in relation to water temperature has been studied so extensively for this population that we have a good idea of when the eggs will be hatching, when the young fish will emerge from the gravel, and when the smolts will migrate to sea," added Harnish. "This allows for water flows to be planned around these life events, to minimize the risk that the eggs and the young fish below the dams will be dewatered."

While dams are known for the physical barriers they impose to migrating salmon, the way that dams hold back and release water for flood control and production of electricity can also have a huge impact. Two of the biggest risks are "dewatering" when water levels drop so low that young fish or eggs don't stay immersed in water and when water levels fall quickly, leaving young fish stranded on the shoreline or entrapped in pools of water that can heat up or dry out.

Priest Rapids Dam and the Hanford Reach

Harnish and his team analyzed 35 years' worth of data, from 1975 through 2009, about salmon downstream from
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Contact: Tom Rickey
tom.rickey@pnnl.gov
585-709-9672
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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It's all water over the dam -- but how and when it falls has huge impact on salmon
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