CLACKAMAS, Ore. – Hatchery managers and fish biologists from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife are breathing easier today in the wake of a major storm that veered north on Wednesday, sparing their facilities in Northwest Oregon from the dire effects of heavy flooding forecast earlier in the week.
“We dodged a bullet,” Bill Otto, coordinator of ODFW’s north hatchery group, said on Thursday. “We’re in pretty good shape,” said Otto, who currently oversees 20 hatcheries from Bonneville Dam to Lincoln City.
Only one of those hatcheries experienced any significant flooding from recent storms, according to Otto. The Salmon River Hatchery, located about 8 miles northeast of Lincoln City, was inundated the night of Jan. 1 after the Salmon River spilled over a levy into rearing ponds containing steelhead and rainbow trout.
| Neil Johnson, assistant manager at ODFW's Salmon Hatchery, points to the level floodwaters reached at a generator building staff that he and other staff members protected with sandbags.
Photo by Brandon Ford, ODFW -
The flood waters subsided by daybreak and the hatchery employees armed with nets searched for escaped fish. They recovered about one garbage can full of dead fish and about another half full of live fish. The full extent of the loss won’t be known until the hatchery staff can re-inventory the fish.
“I don’t think we lost too many of them,” said Neil Johnson, assistant hatchery manager. “Steelhead and rainbow trout hunker down in a current, so I think a lot of them stayed put.”
Salmon Hatchery staff placed sandbags around a generator room and pumps inside to make sure power was not lost and that eggs and fry were protected. The quick action on the part of these employees averted what could have been a major loss, according to Otto, who praised these and other hatchery managers across the region for their preparedness in the recent wave of storm.
“We’ve learned that it’s best to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” said Otto. By Monday, all of the hatcheries were braced with manpower and had contingency plans in place to ensure the survival of millions of chinook and coho salmon, trout and steelhead. Those plans included the possible early release of juvenile fish in the event of power losses or clogged intakes vital to hatcheries’ ability to circulate fresh water through holding ponds.
ODFW’s fleet of tank trucks and their drivers were also disinfected and ready to assist with the delivery of potable water to communities in the event that any of them lost access to clean domestic water. ODFW tankers were called upon to bring drinking water to residents of Vernonia after last year’s big flood.
Now that the latest threat to hatchery operations has passed, many ODFW staff members are assisting landowners by providing technical information they need to for state and federal permits repair flood-damaged property.
|The Clackamas River churns up mud and debris near High Rocks in Gladstone during recent flooding.
Photo by Rick Swart, ODFW -
“We have been busy responding to landowners who are concerned about roads, culverts and stream bank erosion from back-to-back flood events, said Chris Knutsen, district fisheries biologist for ODFW’s North Coast Watershed District in Tillamook. Landowners are encouraged to check with ODFW before entering streams with heavy equipment.
While raging waters are dramatic and can scour stream banks, damage spawning grounds, wash eggs away and hurt young fish, they can also provide certain benefits, according to Todd Alsbury, fish biologist for the North Willamette Watershed District. That may be the silver lining in the clouds that spilled water over the region for the past two weeks.
“There have been cases where flooding has been beneficial to fish because it brings in new sources of nutrients, course sediment and other things that fish need,” he said.
Alsbury said the full impact of the latest round of snow followed by two weeks of flooding probably won’t be known for three or four years when chinook salmon fry that are now in the river have a chance to complete their life cycle, including their migration to the ocean and back.