The bipartisan Washington Congressional delegation united on Friday to support a project central to Puget Sound salmon recovery and the growth of food supplies to Southern resident orcas.
The delegation sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requesting the next phase of the Howard Hanson Dam project on the Green River be funded and prioritized in the fiscal year 2020 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Work Plan, according to a news release from Congresswoman Kim Schrier, D-Issaquah, 8th District.
A 2019 biological opinion (BiOp) issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the construction of a downstream fish passage facility at the dam was necessary for the recovery of salmon and steelhead stocks and the recovery of Southern resident orcas. This request encourages the Army Corps and OMB to continue progress on this vital regional project.
The members said, “…federal funding is needed to complete the design and cost estimate phase of the fish passage facility at Howard Hanson Dam to ensure salmon and steelhead are able to move upriver to spawning habitat and complete returns to Puget Sound. Completing downstream fish passage would reopen at least 60 miles of prime salmon and steelhead habitat above Howard Hanson Dam, nearly doubling the amount of habitat currently available.”
Hanson Dam is an earthen dam, 21 miles east of Auburn. The dam was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1950 and completed in 1961. It is a multipurpose project that includes flood risk reduction, fish conservation, water supply and ecosystem restoration. Flood risk reduction is focused on the highly developed Green River Valley, including Kent. The dam and its reservoir is closed to the public as it lies entirely within the City of Tacoma municipal watershed.
The Corps has $30 million in existing authority and the design and update will be well under that amount, according to Schrier spokesperson Libby Carlson.
“We need the design and update phase completed that includes all the new science and regulations since it was last looked at in 1999,” Carlson said. “Once consensus on the design is agreed upon, the Corps and its partners can determine cost.”
The Corps initially started to look at building a fish-passage tower in the late 1990s to be completed by 2007. But bids came in higher than the government estimated and were not awarded, according to the Corps. Dollars also became tight because the Corps spent so much money on recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005.
The fish tower challenges designers because enough passage windows must be created to allow fish to enter the facility, with elevations of the reservoir fluctuating as much as 100 feet as water is stored and released to help control the flow of the Green River, according to the Corps.
In 2009, the Corps planned to start up the fish passage project again but didn’t get funding. The estimated cost at that time for the project was $200 million, according to the Corps.
“Restoring fish runs above Howard Hanson Dam, which requires a downstream passage system for the dam, is the largest single gain in potential salmon production in Puget Sound,” according to the Green/Duwamish and Central Puget Sound Watershed (WRIA 9).
“As we think about Northwest projects to recover endangered salmon and steelhead stocks, fish passage improvements at Howard Hanson Dam are a great choice, said Kristin Meira, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association. “These improvements will benefit not just our fish, but orcas as well. NOAA Fisheries has identified Puget Sound Chinook runs as some of the most critical to the survival of Southern Resident Killer Whales. We are pleased to see the Washington Congressional delegation unite in supporting critical funding to move this project forward.”
“I want to thank the entire Washington Congressional delegation for coming together to support this uniquely important project for salmon and orca recovery and to provide reliable, clean drinking water,” said Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards. “Getting this project underway is an important step for our entire region.”
Completing the activities outlined in the Feb. 15, 2019, NOAA Fisheries BiOp would provide 60 miles of necessary salmon and steelhead habitat. The additional habitat will increase salmon populations and support Southern resident orcas currently listed under the Endangered Species Act. Moving forward on this project will also facilitate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ continued operation of the Hanson Dam project to protect the Green River Valley from flooding, increase drinking water storage capacity, and uphold the federal government’s trust responsibilities to impacted Tribes.
Others in the delegation who signed the letter included U.S. Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with U.S. Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-3rd District; Dan Newhouse, R-4th; Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-5th; Adam Smith, D-9th; Suzan K. DelBene, D-1st; Denny Heck, D-10th; Derek Kilmer, D-6th; Rick Larsen D-2nd; and Pramila Jayapal, D-7th.