By Bob Spiwak
In a previous column we touched on the Yakama Nation’s salmon recovery project on the Methow River near the Weeman Bridge, and since the end of July things are moving apace.
From a quarter-mile up the road from our West Boesel location, there is the daily concert of high-pitched beeps as various pieces of construction equipment shift into reverse, preceded by the percussion clangs and bangs of monster track hoes.
The object of the project is to provide an area where the salmon preparing to spawn have a place to rest after their upstream journey. Redds, or spawning places, have been determined by fishery biologists. The fish will have an inlet, as well as outlet, to do their thing in the river. By utilizing the ground water, the temperature will be around a constant 50 degrees, winter and summer, ideal for the salmonids, spring Chinook and steelhead.
After months, if not years, of preparatory work, the digging began less than two weeks ago, creating huge channels into which several thousand feet of pipe will be laid, then buried. The pipes will carry water — not from the river, but ground water — that will percolate upward into minute slots in the pipes. The slots are about 1/8-inch across to keep debris out. The water will collect and run downhill and exit into the river through a 30-inch wide pipe, which begins at a diameter of 16 inches.
According to habitat biologist Hans Smith, logs averaging 40 feet long will be placed along the ditching to stabilize the ground, and in some areas will be attached to pilings 16 to 18 inches in diameter driven 8 feet into the earth. After that, the ditches will be filled with local soils and the covered waterway seeded with native plants. For further protection of the disturbed land, temporary fencing will be erected until the plants have matured, this to keep out the deer and cows.
The salmon rehabilitation project, one of several on the Methow, is funded by monies given to the Yakama Nation by the Bonneville Power Administration. Our information indicates that it is the result of the final resolution of a broken treaty between the Indians and the United States government, possibly with the 1868 treaty at Fort Laramie.
The many acres involved in this project are owned by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Pitkin Construction of Wenatchee is doing the work, which is overseen by foreman Darrin Flitton, who provided a lot of the information above.
The term “overseen” can be taken literally, for Flitton has a dandy little drone with a gimbal (omni-directional) camera mounted on its body. From the drone’s vantage point of 400 feet in the air, we could see everything from the Weeman Bridge to where we were standing a quarter-mile away, and then the camera zoomed inward, isolating the two of us at Flitton’s truck. With this device, Flitton can monitor at a glance all phases of the digging, dumping, removing and placement, and minimize driving from area to area.
A portion of the channel where the water will flow into the Methow has already been dug to groundwater, and it looks clean and clear.
There are, of course, some questions and criticisms among locals — one being whether there will be enough water in the river for fish to even reach this area. (A week ago, my medium-size dog was able to walk across and the water was never above her chest.) Another question is how much of the downstream groundwater will be lost to residents and irrigators’ wells. Needless to say, there are those who either pooh-pooh the project as worthless, or lament the millions of dollars being spent.
Nothing can be done about the latter, and in the best of seasons, only the coming years will tell if this will be successful. We can only hope for a huge snowpack in the mountains this winter, yielding enough water to renew the river.