Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Yakima River

Long known as one of the premier trout fisheries in the state, few people know that the Yakima river once supported hundreds of thousands of salmon and steelhead annually. Today that number has been reduced to a fraction of it's former glory, Chinook, Steelhead are listed and Sockeye are extinct. There are however glimmers of hope, two tributaries of the lower Yakima still support some of the strongest returns of wild summer steelhead in the Middle Columbia and thanks to ongoing efforts from the Yakama Nation and their allies they're making an incremental recovery. Currently only about 200 steelhead annually return above Roza dam making it a ripe opportunity for recovery. Efforts are underway to provide access to spawning tributaries and make downstream passage easier for smolts in hopes that it will allow the fish to rebuild their numbers.

Thre is a captive breeding and acclimation program in place to enhance Spring Chinook spawning abundance. We also recently had a piece about the ongoing efforts to provide passage at Cle Elum dam, and reintroduce Sockeye salmon to the upper Yakima. While the jury is still out on whether these efforts will be successfull it is a hopeful time for the Yakima River. Keep an eye out for this months issue to learn more.

Currently one of the main obstacles to recovery of all anadromous salmonids is the water management in the Yakima system. More specifically the "flip-flop" where the Bureau of Rec ramps up flows dramatically in the summer to provide irrigation water for farms in the Lower Yakima valley. This unnatural hydrograph make the mainstem of the Yakima, Naches, and Tieton rivers inhospitable for juvenile rearing most of the summer and has altered the ecology of the system severely. There is an interesting article with more detail in the high country news from a couple of years ago. http://www.hcn.org/issues/361/17423?searchterm=yakima+

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