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Western Fisheries Science News, November 2015 | Issue 3.11

December 3, 2015

Dam Removal and Salmon Response in the White Salmon River, WA

Decommissioning of Condit Dam as shown by photos taken by time-lapse cameras by Steve Stampfli of White Salmon, Washington. (A) The initiation of dam removal before the reservoir was drained, (B) 100 percent decommissioned.

Condit Dam is one of the largest hydroelectric dams ever removed in the U.S. Breached in a single explosive event in 2011, the White Salmon River once again provides habitat that has not been accessible to salmon and steelhead for over 100 years. The dam breaching released hundreds-of-thousands of cubic meters of sediment downstream onto the spawning grounds of a threatened species, Columbia River tule fall Chinook salmon (tule salmon). Over 500 dams have been removed in the U.S. since 2006, but studies that integrate biological and physical responses are rare (O’Conner et al. 2015). With dam decommissioning on the increase, understanding the best approach for removing sediment (for example the instantaneous ‘blow-and-go’ approach of Condit Dam, compared to the phased ‘notch-it-down’ approach used on the Glines Canyon Dam located on the Elwha River) and the ecological trade-offs will be important.  

In a recent publication of River Research and Applications 10.1002/rra.2982, USGS WFRC scientist Jim Hatten1 and colleagues from WFRC, USGS Idaho Water Science Center (IWSC), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), investigated how dam breaching affects channel morphology, river hydraulics, sediment composition, and tule salmon spawning habitat in the lower White Salmon River (river kilometer 0 – 1.7). In addition, field surveys were used to identify new spawning activities upstream of the former dam site. Collaborating with IWSC and USFWS enabled WFRC scientists to better understand effects of dam removal downstream and upstream of former Condit Dam. As expected, breaching Condit Dam dramatically affected channel morphology and spawning habitat downstream due to a large load of sediment released from Northwestern Lake. New shoreline was created, islands developed, pools filled in, and riffles and glides formed. A two-dimensional habitat model found the mean probability of tule salmon spawning habitat increased almost 50 percent in the lower White Salmon River after dam breaching due to an increase in glides and riffles. In addition, seven kilometers of potential spawning habitat is now accessible upstream of Condit Dam. While the White Salmon ecosystem is still changing, the tule salmon run sizes appear healthy and stable.

The WFRC has been conducting multidisciplinary studies such as this to understand the outcomes of dam removal and guide future decisions. Providing research and data to evaluate the effects of dam removal and how ecosystems recover is an important role of WFRC. The USGS works with natural resource and water managers throughout the region on dam removal evaluations and have been involved with projects on many rivers, including the Elwha, Wind, Hood, and Sprague Rivers. In an effort to examine and synthesize current data, WFRC scientists Jeff Duda and Patrick Connolly are part of a Powell Center dam removal working group, to provide a better understanding of the multifaceted and interrelated consequences of dam decommissioning.  

1Jim Hatten is a research biogeographer in WFRC’s Columbia River Research Laboratory. His expertise is cell-based (GIS) predictive modeling, landscape ecology, and remote sensing. His professional experience includes a diverse portfolio ranging from work with Willow flycatchers in Arizona to climate change projects in the Yakima. 

Newsletter Author - Rachel Reagan



WFRC Participates in First USGS Bay-Delta Science Planning Team:  On November 29-30, Russell Perry and Steve Waste (WFRC) participated in the first meeting of the USGS Bay-Delta Science Planning Team. The USGS has been collecting key data and providing information to support many agency decisions and directions in the Bay-Delta, where both the state and federal agencies are working intensively to define a science-based strategy to reinforce California’s water supply reliability while preserving and restoring the Bay-Delta ecosystem. The science planning team –developed by the USGS Pacific Region Bay-Delta Executive Board — is intended to assist involved USGS science centers and the regional office in coordinating USGS research in the Bay-Delta, and in developing advice and priorities for future studies.

USGS Presents Fish Health Science in Congressional Briefing Series:  On November 20, 2015, WFRC Director Jill Rolland gave a talk on fish health in a USGS congressional briefing series in Washington, D.C. The briefing “Understanding the Disease: Science in Support of One Health” focused on how scientists are advancing a concept of integrated wildlife, domestic animal, human and environmental health—One Health. Rolland provided a briefing of research and recent advances in fish health at WFRC.

USGS at Elwha River Science Symposium:  On November 18-20, 2015, scientists from WFRC participated in the 2015 Elwha River Science Symposium in Port Angeles, WA. Research ecologist Jeff Duda chaired the organizing committee for the symposium. Presentation led by WFRC scientists included “Subtidal community responses to increased sediment load during dam removal” (Steve Rubin); “Using aquatic environmental DNA (eDNA) to track fish recolonization following dam removal on the Elwha River” (Carl Ostberg); and “Sea star wasting observations in the Elwha nearshore” (Nancy Elder). The symposium provides a venue for scientists to gather and share their research results describing the outcomes of dam removal and their plans for future research and monitoring.

USGS Participated in Salmonid Bacterial Kidney Disease Workshop in Chile: On November 10-13, Diane Elliott gave an invited presentation at a workshop on salmonid bacterial kidney disease (BKD), held in Puerto Varas, Chile. The workshop focused on strategies for improved management of BKD in cultured salmonid fishes in Chile. The WFRC is the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) reference laboratory for this globally important disease, which occurs in both wild and cultured salmonids and causes significant fish losses in Chilean aquaculture. Scientists at WFRC have developed and validated several of the standardized assays used for BKD diagnosis, as well as one of the methods most widely practiced in aquaculture and conservation hatcheries for preventing transmission of the causative pathogen, Renibacterium salmoninarum, from parent fish to their progeny.


USGS Scientist Receives Conservation Award from Desert Fishes Council: On November 20, scientist emeritus Gary Scoppet-tone received the prestigious W.L. Minckley Conservation Award through the Desert Fishes Council. The Award recognizes individuals or organizations whose work has significantly influenced the conservation of desert aquatic ecosystems and/or the native organisms depen-dent on them.


Resistance to fish virus in steelhead trout: In the most recent issue of Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, researchers from the USGS Western Fisheries Research Center and the University of Washington investigated resistance to infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV) in steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). IHN virus causes significant mortality in both wild and cultured salmon and trout in North America, Asia and Europe. Significant genetic variation in IHNV resistance was confirmed in a coastal steelhead trout population that is relatively resistant to IHNV. This genetic variation is being explored in ongoing to studies to map gene markers associated with IHNV resistance.

Brieuc, M.S.O., M.K. Purcell, A.D. Palmer, and K.A. Naish. 2015. Genetic variation underlying resistance to infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus in a steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) population. Dis. Aquat. Org. 117(1): 77-83.

New Publication Investigates Effects of Dam Removal on Salmon Spawning Habitat in the White Salmon River, Washington: Condit Dam is one of the largest hydroelectric dams ever removed in the United States. Breached in a single explosive event in October 2011, hundreds-of-thousands of cubic meters of sediment washed down the White Salmon River onto spawning grounds of a threatened species, Columbia River Tule fall Chinook salmon. In a recent publication of River Research and Applications, USGS scientists from Western Fisheries Research Center and Idaho Water Science Center, along with colleagues from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, investigate how dam breaching affected channel morphology, river hydraulics, sediment composition and Tule fall Chinook salmon spawning habitat in the lower 1.7 km of the White Salmon River.

Hatten, J.R., T.R. Batt, J.J. Skalicky, R. Engle, G. J. Barton, R.L. Fosness, and J. Warren. 2015. Effects of dam removal on tule fall Chinook salmon spawning habitat in the White Salmon River, Washington. River Res. Appl. 32(7): 1481-1492

USGS Study Evaluates Juvenile Salmon Movement and Survival in the Santiam and Willamette Rivers: The Willamette River Basin contains a series of dams and reservoirs that influence the movements and survival of Pacific salmon populations in the system. To effectively manage these populations, fishery managers require specific information on timing of movements and survival through various reaches in the system. The USGS conducted an evaluation of juvenile Chinook salmon movement and survival in the Santiam and Willamette Rivers during 2014. This study also included an assessment of the percent of PIT-tagged fish that were detected as fish moved downstream and passed the Bennett Dam Complex and Willamette Falls Dam. Results from the study are available in an open-file report that was recently completed.

Kock, T.J., J.W. Beeman, A.C. Hansen, H.C. Hansel, G.S. Hansen, T.W. Hatton, E.E. Kofoot, M.D. Sholtis, and J.M. Sprando. 2015. Behavior, passage, and dowstream migration of juvenile Chinook salmon from Detroit Reservoir to Portland, Oregon, 2014-15: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015-1220, 30 p.

New Publication Provides Insight into Gene Regulation and Muscle Growth in Rainbow Trout, Cutthroat Trout, and Their Hybrids: Hybridization with introduced rainbow trout is a conservation concern for native cutthroat trout. Hybridization causes change in patterns of gene expression, which, in turn, may cause phenotypic change. Rainbow and cutthroat trout differ in body shape and their hybrids tend to show intermediate morphology. Characterization of gene expression patterns may provide insights on the genetic basis of hybrid and parental morphologies, as well as on the ecological performance of hybrids in the wild. In a recent study, researchers at WFRC evaluated expression patterns of muscle growth-related genes and described relationships between gene expression and growth among rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, and their hybrids. The results suggest that rainbow and cutthroat trout exhibit differences in muscle growth regulation and that hybridization disrupts intrinsic relationships between gene expression and growth patterns that may be functionally important for phenotypic adaptations.

Ostberg, C.O., D.M. Chase, and L. Hauser. 2015. Hybridization between Yellowstone cutthroat trout and rainbow trout alters the expression of muscle growth-related genes and their relationships with growth patterns. PLoS ONE 10(10): E0141373

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