Seattle City Light (SCL) released 4500 cfs of water per day for over a week in April, through the Ross dam, to protect 6000 salmon nests (called redds) downstream of the dam. This step was one of the first taken since salmon were declared threatened under the Endangered Species Act in March this year.
Normally, melting snow would fill the river enough to cover the salmon redds. Although the snowpack is massive, due to the late snowmelt this year, SCL was forced to drawdown the reservoir to protect fish. As many as six million salmon fry downstream from SCL’s Skagit project could survive if the salmon nests remain covered. Last fall and winter, spawning salmon deposited these redds along the Skagit riverbanks. At that time, SCL decided to try to protect the nests by voluntarily keeping river flows higher than required by its operating licence.
American Rivers, an environmental action group, commended SCL for its efforts to protect the salmon. ‘The utility’s commitment to provide streamflows well above the minimum required by its federal operating licence sets an example for other agencies and businesses whose operations affect our precious freshwater ecosystems,’ said an American Rivers official. Due to the release of water, the reservoir behind the Ross dam has dropped to a record low level, exposing the lake bed from about two miles upstream of the dam all the way to the Canadian border, for the first time since the dam was constructed in the 1950s. Ross dam is located at Seattle City Light’s Skagit hydroelectric project, about 150 miles northeast of Seattle in the North Cascades off Highway 20.