West fork of Amon Wasteway to be evaluated as salmon habitat

Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldDecember 29, 2013 

Researchers will examine next year whether the west fork of the Amon Wasteway near Badger Canyon is a suitable habitat for salmon.

This is the first study that will specifically focus on the west fork, KID officials were told this week.

David Child, a consulting biologist for the Yakima Basin Joint Board, told KID officials that the research will provide the irrigation district and others with information that is not currently known. Among the fish looked at will be coho salmon and rainbow trout.

The Yakima River Basin Coalition last week approved paying for the research project that's expected to cost about $20,200.

Child will do the research with Ian Courter, a Cramer Fish Sciences biologist. The two worked on a study of the wasteway in 2009 that determined that the wasteway did not have enough water flow for fish to live there before irrigation began in the area.

The wasteway captures excess water from the main KID canal and storm water runoff from the Richland, as well as delivering water to about 1,500 KID water users, according to the study proposal.

Agricultural return flows and canal seepage water goes through the west fork of the wasteway out of Badger Canyon through wetlands owned by Richland called the Amon Creek Preserve.

Previously, biologists have said too much silt and warm water make the Amon Basin an unlikely salmon and steelhead rearing site.

But Child said state officials want more information on the west fork of the wasteway.

In the new study, researchers will determine the quality of the habitat for breeding and raising fish, he said.

Just because fish are present in the wasteway doesn't mean it's a good habitat, biologists said in a document proposing the study. Irrigation flows can falsely attract salmon.

Data will be gathered on water quality, the number of fish and fish habitat, Child said. Researchers will collect flow information and water temperatures and take random water samples to look at information such as pH levels and dissolved oxygen.

During the summer, Child said they will do an electrofishing survey, where electric currents are used to stun fish so they can be counted.

The survey likely will be done in partnership with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

In the past, habitat improvements have been proposed such as something to help fish access the wasteway, but Child said that researchers first need to determine if the habitat is even suitable for fish.

As KID water conservation projects begin, that may reduce the amount of water in the west fork of the Amon Wasteway, Child said.

The east fork of the Amon Wasteway was found to be poor for fish habitat, said KID attorney Brian Iller.

If the west fork is good fish habitat that could affect KID's ability to cut water flows there.

At the very least, he said, the study could help protect KID from claims that the west fork is a good fish habitat.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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