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Development of new information to inform fish passage decisions at the Yale and Merwin hydro projects on the Lewis River, Washington—Final report, 2018

December 14, 2018

The reintroduction of extirpated salmonids to historically occupied areas is becoming increasingly common as a conservation and recovery strategy. Often, reintroductions are implemented after the factors that originally led to species extirpation have been reduced, eliminated, or mitigated. For anadromous Oncorhynchus spp. (Pacific salmon) and O. mykiss (steelhead), addressing barriers to migration, which have been a primary factor in the decline and extirpation of many populations, has been an integral component of recovery efforts. Mitigation has included barrier removal, developing fish passage opportunities, and (or) actively trapping and hauling juvenile and adult anadromous salmonids around barriers.

With any reintroduction, there are a number of concerns regarding the ecological impact of the reintroduction efforts. Three of the main tenets to consider when assessing reintroductions are (1) the potential benefits if reintroduction is successful, (2) the biological risk through interactions of reintroduced strains with existing populations, and (3) the factors potentially limiting a successful reintroduction. This report focuses on information and data to address the second and third factors as they apply to the upper Lewis River in Washington.

The upper Lewis River historically contained wild populations of O. tshawytscha (Chinook salmon), O. kisutch (coho salmon), and steelhead. These populations were extirpated after completion of hydropower facilities on Lake Merwin in 1932, Yale Lake in 1953, and Swift Reservoir in 1958, which prevented fish from migrating to and from ocean environments. However, recent licenses issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission require the installation and operation of an upstream fish passage facility at Lake Merwin and a downstream fish passage facility at Swift Reservoir. The licenses were developed in consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The overarching goal of this fish reintroduction project is to establish viable, self-sustaining, naturally reproducing, harvestable populations of spring Chinook salmon, winter steelhead, and coho salmon at levels higher than minimum viable populations.

This report uses a combination of field data and existing information to address six key objectives related to the reintroduction in order to inform decisions about passage at the Yale Lake and Lake Merwin hydropower projects. The objectives are (1) a review of information relevant to anadromous fish reintroduction and full fish passage; (2) a habitat assessment of tributaries to Swift Reservoir, Yale Lake, and Lake Merwin; (3) a field study to assess adult potential for spawning success; (4) an assessment of juvenile production and outmigration success; (5) a Lake Merwin predator impact study; and (6) a set of studies assessing interactions between anadromous and resident fish.

Publication Year 2018
Title Development of new information to inform fish passage decisions at the Yale and Merwin hydro projects on the Lewis River, Washington—Final report, 2018
DOI 10.3133/ofr20181190
Authors Robert K. Al-Chokhachy, Christopher L. Clark, Mark H. Sorel, David A. Beauchamp
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2018-1190
Index ID ofr20181190
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center