Tag Archives: seattle public utilities

Support For Lake Washington Sockeye Restoration Assessment At Meeting

With a show of hands last night in Renton, anglers and others asked a longtime Lake Washington sockeye advocate to request WDFW look into what it would take to recover the salmon stock and restore the fabled metro fishery.

ANGLERS AND SOME CEDAR RIVER COUNCIL MEMBERS RAISE THEIR HANDS IN SUPPORT OF HAVING FRANK URABECK (STANDING AT LEFT) ASK WDFW TO ASSESS WHAT IT WOULD TAKE TO RESTORE LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It’s a long-shot proposition with seemingly all factors now lined up against the fish, and two of the people who’d gathered in the Red Lion conference room supported just throwing in the towel instead.

But nobody was in favor of the status quo, which is modeled to lead to the extinction of the run in 40 years time — perhaps as few as 30 with this year’s lowest-ever forecast of just 15,153 back to the Ballard Locks is any indication, according to the local state fisheries biologist.

“The reality is, it’s going to be very, very, very tough to get all the players to do something,” acknowledged Frank Urabeck before calling for the vote from the 40 or so members of the public and 10 members of the Cedar River Council.

Not everyone held up a hand for any option, but Urabeck’s plan is to approach WDFW Director Kelly Susewind and ask that the agency conduct a feasibility assessment on what can be done and how much it would cost to bring sockeye back to fishable numbers.

Urabeck said it would likely require “a massive effort, a huge amount of money.”

But even as predation on smolts in the lake grows and more and more adult sockeye are dying between the Ballard Locks and the Cedar River, there are still some glimmers of hope.

The meeting followed on a similar one last year but which did not include Seattle Public Utilities.

Last night, SPU was at the table in the form of watershed manager Amy LaBarge, who gave a presentation about the utility’s Landsburg mitigation hatchery, completed in 2012 with a capacity of 34 million sockeye eggs, but which has only ever been able to collect 18 million due to low returns.

And since that 2018 gathering, Urabeck indicated that there had been talks going on behind the scenes too.

“I can’t say if I’m optimistic, but there has been dialogue,” he said near the end of the two-hour meeting.

Other players in the issue include the Muckleshoot Tribe and WDFW, the latter of which operates the sockeye hatchery for SPU.

Brody Antipa, the regional hatchery manager for the state agency, was in house and he talked about how he began his career as the guy who “lived in a trailer down by the river” at the old temporary facility on the Cedar, which was opened in the early 1990s over concerns that the run at the time was faltering.

The system produced reliably high returns of as many as 400,000 spawners into the river in the 1960s and 1970s, at the end of the era when Lake Washington was thick with blue-green algae that hid the smolts from predators.

Following cleanup efforts, water clarity went from as little as 30 inches in 1964 to 10 feet in 1968 to up to 25 feet in 1990, according to WDFW district fisheries biologist Aaron Bosworth.

Native cutthroat and northern pikeminnow primarily but also nonnative bass, yellow perch and other species suddenly had the advantage over the young sockeye.

The years of 400,000 reds on the redds were over just as anglers had figured out how to reliably catch sockeye in the lake with just a plain old red hook.

In the 1990s, Antipa said that testing at the hatchery determined that feeding the young sockeye was helpful before turning them loose to rear in the lake a year to 14 months.

By the early 2000s, fisheries went from once every four years to once every other year — 2002, 2004, 2006.

But since then there’s been nothing but a string of increasingly bad years, with last fall seeing just 7,476 of the 32,103 sockeye that went through the locks reaching the Cedar, despite no directed fisheries and only a small biological sampling program operating at Ballard.

IF WE DON’T GET OFF OUR COLLECTIVE ASS, THAT FLAT LINE REPRESENTS THE FUTURE OF LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE, BUT A FEW ARE READY TO THROW IN THE TOWEL WITH THE ENORMITY OF THE JOB AND CHALLENGES THE FISH FACE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The rest died from prespawn mortality caused by fish diseases that may have become more deadly and prevalent due to warmer water in the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

During last night’s question-and-answer period, the audience and Cedar River Council members focused on tweaking the hatchery operations — whether or not Baker and Fraser sockeye could be used to reach full eggtake capacity; if the facility was able to hold the fry longer for a feeding and later-release programs that show promise; and if it could be used to just raise coho and Chinook instead.

The short-term answer to all that was “no” — the current management plan that the hatchery operates under doesn’t allow it.

So, asked a member of the council, how do we change that plan?

LaBarge, the SPU staffer, said that would need to go through stakeholders to get buy-in.

“The conversation is starting about that,” she said.

Another issue is all the predators in Lake Washington.

Antipa said that where once just getting 40 million fry into the lake all but guaranteed a fishery a few years later, the 70 million that swam out of the Cedar in 2012 didn’t result in anything.

Partly that’s due to the circular feedback of PSM issues affecting how many eggs are available at the hatchery and in the gravel , but rock bass have joined the suite of piscovores, along with walleye and at least one northern pike.

A bill on its way to Gov. Inslee’s desk would require WDFW to drop daily and size limits on largemouth and smallmouth in Lake Washington, along with all other waters used by sea-going salmonids in the state.

Realistically that won’t do diddly to bass populations, but gillnetting efforts the Muckleshoots have begun more seriously next door in Lake Sammamish might.

TWO THUMBS UP FOR SEATTLE SOCKEYE FROM THIS ANGLER DURING THE 2004 SEASON. (RYLEY FEE)

Before the show of hands, Max Prinsen, the chair of the Cedar River Council, recalled how in 1979 he came north from California at a time when bald eagles and condors were “gone” in the Golden State.

“But with changes we made as a society we brought those species back,” he noted.

After Urabeck’s vote, he spoke again.

“These fish aren’t just important as a fishery, but as a part of Northwest life,” Prinsen said. “I think it’s important to conserve this resource. It’s great to see this much interest.”

I would quibble with his use of the word “resource” — by chance this morning on the bus while proofing our Alaska magazine I read a quote from the author Amy Gulick about a Tlingit woman in Sitka who taught her that “The word ‘resource’ implies an end product, a commodity. But ‘relationship’ is so much deeper and multi-faceted. If you have a relationship with salmon, then you also have a relationship to a river, a home stream and the ocean. And you probably have relationships with people in your community connected to each other by way of salmon. We show gratitude for healthy relationships because they make our lives richer.”

But Prinsen was also among those who’d raised their hands, and I’ll bet something along the lines of a relationship with the sockeye was what he meant anyway.

Lake Washington, Cedar River Sockeye Subject Of Tuesday Night Meeting

Lake Washington and Cedar River sockeye are on the agenda of an “important” Tuesday night public meeting that may help figure out where the troubled program goes from here.

With increasing inlake predation on smolts and more and more returning adults dying before they can even reach the spawning grounds or hatchery, there hasn’t been a season on the big lake since 2006 and this year’s forecast of just 15,153 is the lowest ever.

LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE FACE AN INCREASING HOST OF PREDATORS, INCLUDING NATIVE SPECIES SUCH AS CUTTHROAT TROUT AND NORTHERN PIKEMINNOW, AND NONNATIVE ONES SUCH AS SMALLMOUTH, LARGEMOUTH AND ROCK BASS, YELLOW PERCH, AMONG OTHERS, WHILE RETURNING ADULTS ARE FAILING TO MAKE IT TO THE GRAVEL DUE TO RISING PRESPAWN MORTALITY. (MIKE PETERSON, IDFG VIA NMFS, FLICKR, CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0)

The “godfather” of the fishery, Frank Urabeck, says he’ll be asking anglers whether to just throw in the towel, maintain the status quo or request WDFW assess what could be done to restore the runs to harvestable levels.

That show of hands will follow presentations on the fish and hatcheries by WDFW’s Brody Antipa and Aaron Bosworth, and Amy LaBarge of Seattle Public Utilities, which operates a sockeye production facility on the system.

They will be speaking before the Cedar River Council, and during last year’s meeting on sockeye issues state research scientist Dr. Neala Kendall said that if nothing is done, her models said that the run could peter out in 20 years or so.

She said that restoring the fishery would be hard but it also wasn’t impossible.

Among the problems to overcome are smolt predation by native cutthroat trout and northern pikeminnow, as well as nonnative species such as largemouth, smallmouth, rock bass and yellow perch. Walleye and at least one northern pike are also in the lake and represent some level of threat to the young salmon.

Ocean conditions have been poorer for Lake Washington sockeye since 2006’s year-class enjoyed “insanely high” survival at sea, with one out of every two smolts that went out returning that year for an estimated Ballard Locks count of 472,000.

And in recent years a high percentage of sockeye have just disappeared between the locks and the Cedar — 77 percent last year, 80 percent in 2016 — likely victims of prespawn mortality.

The combination of too-warm water in the relatively shallow ship canal the fish have to transit before reaching the cool depths of the lake and preexisting diseases appear to be a one-two punch many aren’t surviving.

Potential solutions might include increased focus on removing piscivorous fish and trucking returning adults from the locks to the lake, but those would likely face headwinds from fans of those species and the cost.

Still, for how popular and productive the fishery once was, it would be interesting to know whether it’s feasible or not.

The April 23 meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Renton Red Lion, 1 S. Grady Way, which is exit 2 on I-405.

Recovering Lake Washington Sockeye Runs Subject Of Upcoming Meeting

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE

The Cedar River Council will host an important meeting on Tuesday, April 23. at 7 p.m. at the Renton Red Lion Hotel and Conference Center (1 South Grady Way) about the very popular Lake Washington sockeye fisheries which had been largely supported by the Cedar River sockeye run produced by natural spawning and a temporary Cedar River hatchery that began operation in 1991 followed by a permanent hatchery constructed by Seattle Public Utilities in 2011.

ANGLERS PREPARE TO NET A SOCKEYE DURING THE LAST LAKE WASHINGTON FISHERY, IN 2006. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

No Lake Washington recreational sockeye fisheries have been allowed since 2006 when more than 50,000 sockeye were taken by sport anglers over an eighteen day season. That year the number of sockeye surging through the Ballard Locks exceeded 400,000.

The 2019 run is forecast at only 15,000, the lowest forecast ever. There have been no directed harvest fisheries for the last 13 years.

The public meeting will include presentations by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Seattle Public Utilities on the history of the introduced sockeye run, fabulous periodic sport fishing from the early 1970s until 2006, and the likely reasons the run has collapsed.

The role of the sockeye hatchery will be covered. What might be done to restore the run to harvestable levels and the possibilities this could happen will be discussed.

Puget Sound Anglers and other organizations have worked hard over the years to secure recreational sockeye fisheries, and engaged as strong advocates for the permanent Cedar River sockeye hatchery.

Coastal Conservation Association was instrumental in securing funding for a Lake Washington juvenile sockeye predation study that provided important scientific data.

Chinook Return To Spawn In Restored Seattle Urban Stream Stretch

For the first time this decade, Chinook are spawning in a Seattle stream, and what’s more they’re doing so in a stretch restored for just that purpose.

A SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITY IMAGE SHOWS A PAIR OF CHINOOK SALMON ON THE GRAVEL OF LOWER THORNTON CREEK, EAST OF NORTHGATE MALL. (SPU)

Seattle Public Utilities reports that in late October it spotted the pair in Thornton Creek’s Meadowbrook reach, between Matthews Beach on Lake Washington and Nathan Hale High School.

ANOTHER SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITIES IMAGE SHOWS ONE OF THE CHINOOK, A HEN. (SPU)

That section was part of an $8 million 2014 SPU project that combined improved spawning habitat with better flood control.

THORNTON CREEK FLOWS THROUGH THE MEADOWBROOK REACH IN MARCH 2015. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“We engineered the streambed vertically and horizontally. Four years after construction, it is maintaining very high-quality gravel,” said utility biologist Katherine Lynch in a press release. “The Chinook salmon pair travelled almost one and a half miles to select this site for spawning. That’s a vote of confidence!”

HIGH WATER BRAIDS AROUND AN ISLAND IN LOWER THORNTON CREEK FOLLOWING A MARCH 2017 RAIN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Ironically, Thornton isn’t even among the sites the public are directed to go to for Salmon Seeson in King County, but the duo appear to be fin-clipped, and in its release SPU noted the importance of the salmon stock to starving southern resident killer whales.

Thornton here formerly was a 1,000-foot-long ditch, essentially a “hallway” for fish instead of a home, and above there it still runs nearly as straight as an arrow.

As my two young sons can tell you, if last Sunday’s visit to Seattle’s Pipers Creek and a chat with a fish steward there is any indication, in addition to clear, clean and cold water, salmon need connected and complex streams– the 5Cs.

The Meadowbrook work also includes a pond that fills with runoff during high water events, filtering out some of the debris.

SCHMUTZ GATHERS NEAR A WATER CONTROL GATE LEADING TO A HOLDING AND CLEANSING POND ON THORNTON CREEK AT MEADOWBROOK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Well upstream, my family and I had a rain garden installed outside our house to slow and treat street runoff that feeds into a stormwater drain that dumps into Thornton. It’s suspected that particles from tires flushed off the roads into urban waterways are particularly deadly to returning adult coho and their young.

In a year of mixed news for Northwest salmon, that a pair of Chinook found themselves in a city stream outfitted with spawning gravel is a bit of good.