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Josh
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have always been curious how far up the Skagit Salmon and Steelhead were able to travel before we put damns in. Does anyone know if there were any natural barries or if the rapids thru the canyon stopped the fish? Did they make it to the Ross Lake Tribs?

Thanks,

Josh
 

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Seattle City Light claims that steelhead and salmon could not get past the gorge where the first dam was built on the Skagit. I don't buy it myself but I live in Sedro Woolley and we don't believe much of anything that folks in Seattle say. Not to sure about the Baker River complex. I think a better question is how much have the dams altered the river and consquently salmon and steelhead behaviour. For example some claim the river above Rockport used to be full of steelhead before the dams. Now, not so much.
 

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Josh -
The reports from the first non-indians to visit that country as well as the assessment of most of the "fish biologists types" is that anadromous did not regularly reach the various Ross Lake tribuatries. There are several spots between Ross and Newhalelm that would appear to be potential velocity barriers for anadromous fish. The narrow gorge immediately below Ross dam is one example where it is hard to image fish gettting through there at anything but the lowest flows.

The dams on the Baker most definitely did block off anadromous passage. There are historic records of 100s of adult steelhead stacking up at a weir at the outlet of Baker Lake. Once they reach the lake there would be a number of miles of poential habitat for spawning and juvenile rearing. Sockeye and coho salmon (thanks to hatchery programs) continue to return to Baker Lake but steelhead and Chinook are essentially extinct in the watershed.

Kerry is correct in that the potential impacts from the dams include factors other than migration blockages.

Tight lines
Curt
 

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Runejl,

Pre-dam, there was a natural barrier to salmonid migration a short distance upstream of present day Diablo Dam. Major cataracts exist between there and Ruby Creek, which is just upstream of Ross Dam. Salmon and steelhead migrated upstream of present day Gorge Dam and spawned on Cedar Bar and Reflector Bar and in the lower two or three miles of Stetattle Creek. During the Skagit relicensing proceeding years ago, I calculated the amount of salmon (chinook) and steelhead habitat lost. I don't remember the value, but it was small, all things considered, and is mitigated for by having Seattle provide improved spawning and incubation flows downstream of Gorge Dam.

The presence of rainbow trout and native char upstream of Ross, and the historic records documenting them, indicate that passage through the cataract has been possible, even if temporarily, at times during the historic past. A former WDFW biologist asserted that summer steelhead formerly populated the upper Skagit. They may have, but not in the historic past, or time frame that would affect Seattle City Light's mitigation obligations. The upper Skagit Valley upstream of the Ross Dam site was settled prior to dam construction. There were a couple of horse ranchers upstream of Ruby Creek, along with a few trappers and miners. They caught trout and char, but no salmon or steelhead. Skagit Indians who traveled to a mining site where they made arrowheads and tools packed their own dried salmon with them from downstream, knowing they would not be able to catch any fresh salmon up there.

It wouldn't be fair to expect anyone from Sedro Woolley to ever believe folks from Seattle, so it's the good thing that the above information comes from more reliable sources. Those sources are from Indian oral tradition stories and former residents of the upper valley who were pissed at having to move out because Seattle's dam flooded their land. People who were not from Seattle or benefitting from Seattle seem like pretty good sources.

The Baker River dams flooded most of the productive salmon and steelhead reaches of the Baker sub-basin, extirpating native chinook and steelhead, and nearly wiping out the coho and sockeye until restoration measures began in 1985. The six miles of remaining accessible salmon habitat upstream of Baker Lake is damn close to being sterile water, and therefore not too productive. Bull trout and some salmon do spawn there however. Because of the recent relicensing of the Baker dams, Puge Sound Energy (PSE) is making significant improvements to upstream and downstream fish passage around the dams. PSE is also building a new "small scale" hatchery at the upper end of Lake Shannon. It's primary focus is on enhancement of the Baker sockeye population, but it includes facilities so the managers can attempt restoration of chinook and steelhead also, should they decide to. Coho are doing pretty well with the new fish passage system, and the small amount of hatchery supplementation of coho may be discontinued if the natural population is self-sustaining.

Sg
 

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Topwater,

That's true in many cases. However, in the case of the Skagit, just downstream of Gorge Powerhouse are Newhalem and Goodell Creeks. Newhalem alone contributes over 60,000 cubic yards of sediment per year, and Goodell is an even larger tributary. Fortunately, the Skagit is not starved for spawning sized gravel or sediment in general. In fact there is too much fine sediment, but that's another matter. The Skagit and its tributaries used to be full of salmon and steelhead from the mouth upstream to all the impassible barriers, . . . and then we arrived and solved that problem.

Sg
 

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Josh
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thank for the responses guys. Fishing the upper Skagit (BC) I have often daydreamed of what it would be like if there were steelhead and what a strong fish it would have been. It sure is pretty water up there.
 

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It wouldn't be fair to expect anyone from Sedro Woolley to ever believe folks from Seattle, so it's the good thing that the above information comes from more reliable sources. Those sources are from Indian oral tradition stories and former residents of the upper valley who were pissed at having to move out because Seattle's dam flooded their land. People who were not from Seattle or benefitting from Seattle seem like pretty good sources.

Sg
......................:hmmm: .................... :rofl:

Thanks Salmo,
 

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To reinforce what others said, I've also heard that the biggest loss came from the Baker River Dams. Its a big watershed in its own right and is (or was) full of potential spawning habitat. A few old timers I've talked to have some pretty impressive stories about the fish runs that came out of there. Baker Lake was a natural lake before the dams, although much smaller than what it is now. I could only imagine the trout and char populations that used to be in there.
 

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Plecoptera,

That's the thing about stories of days gone by. Every river, every tributary, well, it was the biggest producer in all of (name your area). Not trying to understate anything about the Baker River watershed, just put it in perspective. It's a 297 square mile sub-basin with a high average elevation, so it produces more runoff per square mile than most. But not more fish, ever. The original Baker Lake was around 700 acres, so the historic sockeye population, which has been estimated at 20,000, was probably actually the peak runs in the very best years of both fresh and saltwater survival. Average runs were likely 10 K or less. Average historic coho runs could easily have been larger than the sockeye run, based on total potential productivity. Chinook and steelhead occurred there, but the populations weren't likely any larger than occurred in the Cascade, for example. Pinks and chums spawned in the lowermost miles of the river. The native char population could easily have been larger than the Cascade River's, due to the lake and the sockeye run which would have enhanced the year round forage base. In terms of lost riverine habitat, but not in fish biomass, the Skagit dams flooded many more miles than the Baker dams did.

Sg
 
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