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Fish screens keeping salmon on course

According to the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), salmon in Washington state are making the journey to and from the ocean safely via area rivers.

The salmon are doing this BPA said, without the deadly, one-way detour to irrigation ditches thanks to fish screens in the Yakima River that help keep the salmon on the right course.

To celebrate this, officials from the BPA, Bureau of Reclamation, Yakama Nation and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will meet Friday, Sept. 22, at 10 a.m., in Eshbach Park near Naches. Biologists and fish and wildlife experts will lead a public tour.

Tim Collett, assistant manager for the Roza Irrigation District, said there are fish screens at the Roza Dam. The screens are maintained and operated by the Bureau of Reclamation.

Effective fish screens are a key element in the regional effort to recover depleted and endangered salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia River Basin, according to a BPA press release.

As part of that system, the Yakima Basin is one of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's principal examples of offsite mitigation, meaning that this area of Central Washington helps make up for habitat losses as a result of the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

"Back in the 80's our fish screens were updated through a BPA program," Don Schramm, assistant manager of operations at Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District, said. The Bureau of Reclamation maintains these screens as well.

Schramm said SVID's drainage system is what needs to be upgraded next.

"Fish can swim up the drain and it's not an appropriate place for fish to survive," Schramm said.

The Yakama Nation, SVID, the Roza Irrigation District and the Bureau of Reclamation are looking at putting a fish barrier at the Sulphur Creek drain. This would keep the fish from swimming up the drain.

Schramm said most of the SVID drains have natural barriers. The water empties from high banks. The water cascades down the bank and the fish can't get in.

Sulphur Creek is different.

"We've done a good job of keeping fish out of the delivery system," Schramm said. "Now we have to work on keeping them out of the drain system."

Friday's program begins in Eshbach Park where steep, rocky hills and a fish screen will provide the backdrop for speakers from various agencies participating in this collaborative project.

After the main program, the group will advance via shuttle to two other fish screen sites to see other types of screen technology and to get hands-on explanations from biologists about how the screens work.

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