A fish passage system has safely transported live fish over a distance of 1100ft with a 100ft rise at a US dam in a project that could pave the way for further systems at previously impassable structures.

The system, a soft, flexible tube, developed by Seattle-based Whooshh Innovations, is known as the Whooshh Fish Transport System (WFTS) or ‘Salmon Cannon’. It uses very little water and depends on very low pressure differentials to move fish gently, efficiently, and cost-effectively, according to the growing list of supporters of this novel fish passage solution.

The current study, taking place at the US Bureau of Reclamation’s (USBR) Roza Dam fish passage/fish handling facility on the Yakima River, was designed to evaluate the efficacy of employing the WWFTS to safely transport live fish over a distance and elevation that models the currently impassable Cle Elum Dam – which is 165ft high and 1100ft from tailrace to crest – said Walter Larrick, Project Manager with the USBR’s Columbia Cascades office.

"Often fish passage is the last thing done in any major project," Larrick said. "Because the Whooshh system can be deployed quickly, it can save fish years otherwise lost during planning and construction."

The USBR recently awarded a contract to Whooshh Innovations, primarily because of the ability of the Whooshh system to assist fish over high barriers under a wide variety of circumstances, including variable water levels in the forebay and tailrace, Larrick added.

For the Yakama Nation, it has long been a dream to return migratory fish such as Sockeye and Chinook salmon, as well as Bull trout and Steelhead, to the formerly inaccessible Cle Elum Lake because of the lack of adequate fish passage.

"We’re encouraged by the results of this scientific study," said Mark Johnston, Research Scientist for the Yakama Nation Fisheries. "We’ve spent nearly three years working with the Whooshh system and now with this latest study, we believe we will have the science and the data we need to assure our goal of safe passage of returning Sockeye salmon and other species to Cle Elum Lake."

The success of the Roza Dam study should pave the way for the WFTS to be used at other USBR sites, said Whooshh Innovations’ CEO, Vince Bryan III, including those contemplated in the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resources Management Plan. He said that this study could help convince fisheries managers to use the WFTS on river systems where waters have become too warm and, as a result, have depressed the natural ability of the fish to "fight their way" up over traditional fish ladders.

"As climate change continues to affect river systems, the management of water has become a priority, especially as warmer waters cause undue stress — and lead to the death of countless valuable and threatened fish," Bryan pointed out. "With the success of this feasibility and viability study, we are more encouraged than ever that our system can be a better solution for fish passage, not only nationwide, but worldwide."