Simple Fix Opens
After years of looking at the boarded-up fishway at Skaha Lake Dam in British Columbia and collectively shaking their heads, staff from the Colville Tribes and Okanagan Nation Alliance cut 105 four-by-four posts and set them into built-in slots in the fishway. They created five step pools, each about two to four feet deep, each about an 8 to 12 inch leap above the last.
Then they removed the existing stop log. Water flowed into the fishway, and salmon that were once limited to rearing in the north basin of Canada's Lake Osoyoos now had access to Skaha Lake. Okanagan sockeye rearing habitat more than doubled. Cost of the project: around $2,500.
"Frustration removed," says Colville fish biologist Chris Fisher.
Both Skaha Lake and Okanagan Lake are prized for their native kokanee, which grow to 10 pounds and supply a lively recreational and commercial fishery. Fish managers were worried about sockeye getting into the lakes and competing with kokanee and native trout for food and habitat, and potentially spreading disease. They also wanted to keep non-native warm-water species from getting into the upper reaches of the Okanagan River. So, soon after the dams were built, they closed off passage into both of those lakes.
But as the Colville Tribes watched sockeye runs in the U.S. dwindle in the 1990s, they wondered if the limited rearing area in Canadian lakes was part of the problem. The mid-Columbia public utility districts of Douglas, Chelan and Grant counties had mitigation responsibilities for the sockeye that migrated past their dams. They began to form alliances with the Okanagan First Nations and the Canadian governmental entities, including the Department of Fish and Oceans. A 12-year plan started to take shape.
In 2000, they approached BPA with a request to fund a risk assessment of their proposal to open up access to Skaha and Okanagan lakes. BPA agreed to fund an $800,000 three-year study. The study found that there was negligible disease risk to native stocks from providing passage over McIntyre and Okanagan Falls into Skaha Lake. Follow-up studies found there was plenty of food
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