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After 70 Years, Salmon Could Return To Columbia River Above Grand Coulee

When the Grand Coulee Dam was built between 1933 and 1941, it effectively blocked salmon from traveling to the upper reaches of the Columbia River.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
When the Grand Coulee Dam was built between 1933 and 1941, it effectively blocked salmon from traveling to the upper reaches of the Columbia River.

If all goes according to plan, there could soon be salmon above the Grand Coulee Dam again. That’s according to Cody Desautel, director of Natural Resources for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville. 

“We’re going to trap and haul fish out of our hatchery and put them above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams,” he said. “So there will be salmon above Grand Coulee Dam this year for the first time in 70 years.”

When the Grand Coulee Dam was built between 1933 and 1941, it effectively blocked salmon from traveling to the upper reaches of the Columbia River. But Desautel said that could change early this fall.

“There was a lot of legwork that had to happen beforehand, like risk assessments and feasibility studies and habitat assessments to know if we brought those fish back, would there be any negative repercussions,” Desautel said. “Most of that works is done. All of that work has said it will not, so now is the time.”

Desautel said the plan hangs on one last federal permit from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

For years, the tribes have been looking for a way to return salmon above the dam. Michael Marchand is the Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville.

“When I was younger, I didn’t think I would see those things,” he said.

Marchand said his grandmother once pointed out the spot where his ancestors used to fish.

“One time, they lowered the water to work on the dam. I was just a young child and she said ‘that spot on that rock on this island is our family spot,’ and I was thinking like ‘Why is she telling me this? This dam is going to be here for a thousand years,” he said.

The dam remains, but if the final permit is approved, Colville fish managers will trap salmon at their hatchery and drive them around the dam by truck, where they’ll be released back into the Columbia River. The tribe will keep track of where those fish go.

It’s the next step in a decades-long process to reintroduce a viable salmon population on the river.

Copyright 2018 Northwest News Network

Emily Schwing
Emily Schwing comes to the Inland Northwest by way of Alaska, where she covered social and environmental issues with an Arctic spin as well as natural resource development, wildlife management and Alaska Native issues for nearly a decade. Her work has been heard on National Public Radio’s programs like “Morning Edition” and “All things Considered.” She has also filed for Public Radio International’s “The World,” American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” and various programs produced by the BBC and the CBC. She has also filed stories for Scientific American, Al Jazeera America and Arctic Deeply.
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