Migratory fish would have access to miles of habitat above Lake Cle Elum Dam for the first time in a century under a long-awaited environmental document issued Thursday.
A juvenile fish release facility inthe massive Cascade Range lake eight miles northwest of Cle Elum and aprogram to reintroduce fish are spelled out in an environmental impact statement crafted jointly by the Bureau of Reclamation and state Department of Ecology.
Returning adults would be captured below the dam and trucked up to the lake for spawning and rearing, according to the document.
Yakama Nation fisheries officials called the document a major milestone in the long effort to restore more healthy fish populations.
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"This is as close as we have ever been," said Dave Fast, a senior research scientist for the Yakama Nation. "These fish are important in so many ways to the nation's culture and as a food source."
The fish passage proposal is designed to restore sockeye salmon, and expand coho and spring chinook salmon populations. It also would help in the recovery of two species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act: steelhead and bull trout.
Sockeye disappeared from the lake after basin storage dams for the Yakima Irrigation Project were completed between 1912 and 1933. None of the dams was equipped with passages for fish.
Construction of the multistory fish release facility could cost $84 million and would require congressional approval.
What's more, a final design and modeling study -- also unfunded -- still is needed, said Wendy Christensen, technical projects program manager for the federal Bureau of Reclamation in Yakima.
Planning for fish passage at Cle Elum and Bumping lakes began in 2002. At the time, the Bureau of Reclamation was proceeding with repairs to anotherbasin storage dam, Keechelus Dam -- repairs that did not call for fish passage. But the Bureau agreed to work onfish plans with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Yakama Nation.
Efforts to reintroduce fish to the lake in 2006 have been promising.
Juvenile coho salmon planted and released through a flume at the dam's spillway have been captured at the base of the dam as returning adults, according to Mark Johnston, a Yakama Nation research scientist.
The offspring of sockeye salmon planted in the lake in 2009 and spawned naturally are poised to begin their migration this year.
More sockeye were planted last year.