Water Slide for Fish Touted at Lake Cle Elum

By Tom Bacon

If people can use and enjoy water slides, why not fish? If the funding can be secured, the Yakima Indian tribe and the federal Bureau of Reclamation have plans to build a unique spiral water slide to help sockeye salmon find their way out of Lake Cle Elum on the Yakima River.

Tribal fishery managers have introduced several thousand adult sockeyes to the lake above Cle Elum, a spawning and habitat area closed off to the migrating fish for about a century. But that doesn't solve the problem of letting juvenile salmon find their way down out of the lake.

Unlike most reservoirs on the Columbia River, Lake Cle Elum water levels vary wildly, as much as 60 feet, depending on snow melt, drought and water demand downstream. So Bureau of Reclamation engineers have designed a water slide, rather than a traditional fish ladder to help the young fish make their way over the dam, regardless of water levels. It would have stepped inlets to allow fish to swim in at just about any water level, a spiral water slide, and a tunnel that would route the fish past the dam into the river.

It could be a critical step in re-introducing salmon and eventually steelhead to about 41 miles of habitat above Cle Elum. The project would cost about 100-million dollars.

Once the young salmon mature and return as spawning adults from the ocean, they'd have no such high-tech help to get back up into the lake. The returning fish would simply be trapped at the foot of the dam, hauled by tank truck and dumped back into the lake.
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