Norbert Ketola, project manager, stands near a series of ponds where young fish will grow. Sequim Gazette photo by Amanda Winters
by AMANDA WINTERS
Big changes are coming to the Elwha River.
After decades of lobbying for the removal of the Elwha River dams, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe not only will see its efforts come to fruition but it also will gain a $16.4 million state-of-the-art fish hatchery.
“The hatchery is expected to provide a refuge to salmon populations during the actual dam removal period and to help supplement the natural production of coho salmon, steelhead, chum salmon and pink salmon following dam removal,” said Larry Ward, Lower Elwha Klallam hatchery manager. “Production of fish at the hatchery is expected to increase following the removal of the dams and then scale back as natural production begins to increase.”
The hatchery project on Stratton Road is the result of a partnership among the tribe, the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior.
In February 2010, the tribe broke ground on the 10-acre fish hatchery project. Now it is more than halfway done and should be finished in May 2011, project manager Norbert Ketola said.
Startup is set for March 2011.
Robert Elofson, program director of the Elwha River restoration, said the hatchery is a big step from the tribe’s much smaller 1970s hatchery down the river.
The main building is more than 7,000 square feet and contains a large open room that will house incubators, a tank room for when the eggs hatch, six offices, a conference room, restrooms and a control room for the water filters, pumps and electrical switches. There also is a 2,000-square-foot storage room for equipment.
Ketola said the hatchery has the capacity to hold several hundreds of thousands of fish of different species and keep them separate.
Coho salmon and steelhead will be held for a year, which is the natural time for them to grow before heading to the saltwater, he said.
A series of pools and four large ponds are designed to hold the salmon as they grow. Channels were constructed to open and close so the fish can swim out to sea when they become smolt, Ketola said.
One unique feature of the hatchery is the ability to pump and recycle water, Elofson said. That will be important if the river floods, he noted.
Engineered log jams were placed near the mouth of the channel leading to the hatchery, so fish could have a place to rest and spawn, and work is being done on a levee to ensure it holds up as the river changes from the dam removal, he said.
Nine local subcontractors, including Accurate Angle Construction Experts of Sequim, are working on the construction and employing up to 50 people at a time on the site, said LaTrisha Suggs, assistant director of river restoration at the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.
The project funding included American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
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