Photo by Shane Anderson

​The Chehalis River Dam Proposal…Our Wild Fish need your Help!

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” - George Santayana

First, a success story . . . . Washington state is on the conservation national map with the largest dam removal project in U.S. history, up on the Elwha River, right out of Port Angeles. I had the opportunity to be up on the Elwha River recently, soaking in the sounds of this magnificent river, spotting redds of steelhead spawning in its newly re-formed gravel bends, and marveling at the power of nature to re-adapt after human intervention. This river’s return is a proverbial “feather in our conservation cap” as a state.

Yet in southwest Washington a new dam is proposed. The lesson we learned as a state around taking out dams and how beneficial this can be to restoring runs of native fish seems in direct conflict with the Chehalis Basin dam proposal. This would be a brand new dam, choking a previously free flowing river system. The proposed dam would block wild salmon and steelhead runs, as well as flood wildlife habitat. This proposed dam is threatening some vibrant and abundant runs of our chinook, coho, chum and steelhead.

The Chehalis is Washington’s second largest river basin, and it’s one of only a few undammed watersheds on the West Coast, and still retains relatively healthy wild salmon and steelhead runs.

Decades of development in the floodplain, widespread logging in the upper watershed, and other man-made changes to the Chehalis and its tributaries have contributed to flooding in recent years, impacting local communities and even periodically flooding Interstate 5.

The Chehalis Basin Plan Strategy, developed by the Office of Chehalis Basin and the Chehalis Basin Board, is proposing a new dam, five miles from this river’s major steelhead and salmon spawning grounds.

So far, this proposal has been flying under the public radar with some strategists talking about it as a temporary flood retention facility. The actual plan calls for a foundation that could support a permanent dam twice the size.

So, how stable is the geology?

On the left-hand side of the picture, you can see a big slide, right at the proposed dam site. In the last big flood of 2007 there were 1645 documented slides in these headwaters. What will happen to all that sediment from slides if a dam is built? More information on this can be found here and here.

What about impacts to wild fish?

The stretch from the dam upstream five miles is touted as having one of the largest number of spawning wild steelhead per river mile in Washington state. we are deeply concerned that this proposed dam would significantly reduce this population of wild salmon and steelhead. A WDFW study titled “Upper Chehalis Salmonid Spawner Abundance and Distribution, 2013-2017” states: “The Chehalis River basin above RM 108.2 supports spawning of wild spring chinook, fall chinook, coho, and steelhead, during most of the year from mid-September to mid-June. This area of the watershed is diverse enough to provide spawning and pre-spawn holding habitat for each of these four species. All four species of salmonids could be affected with the introduction of a dam that creates an inundation footprint the size of the flood retention flow augmentation dam alternative . . . .”

What can you do?

We need more eyes on these proposed actions. Please join me and Native Fish Society as we take a stand for the Chehalis River and our wild fish. Do you, or does anyone you know, live near the Chehalis River Basin? We want to hear from you!

We recognize that this is a complicated issue. We will continue to raise questions about this plan as options are presented. In the meantime, please join us and voice your concerns. We would love to have your assistance as we monitor, participate in, and comment on this proposal.

For wild fish,

J Michelle Swope, Washington Regional Coordinator
jmichelle@natiefishsociety.org

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