Nooksack dam may be closer to removal - Locke might budget funds
to build fish-friendly system to divert water to lake
Bellingham, WA - The city of Bellingham could be closer to removing its diversion dam on the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River and replacing it with a more "fish-friendly" way to move river water into Lake Whatcom.
Bellingham Public Works Director Dick McKinley said a representative of Gov. Gary Locke told McKinley that the governor would include $1.6 million for the $8 million project in the state's supplemental 2004 budget request he submits to the state Legislature.
The governor's office could not confirm what will be in the budget until it is made public next week, said Kirsten Kendrick, a governor's spokesperson.
McKinley made his pitch for the money when Locke visited Whatcom County last week.
The Army Corps of Engineers could pay for $5 million of the project, depending on their future budget, said Clare Fogelsong, city environmental supervisor.
"So far, it looks really good," McKinley said.
That would leave $1.4 million for the project that the city would need to get from either state or federal grants or possibly the city's capital reserves, Fogelsong said.
If built, the project would include tearing down the existing dam, which is used to force water into a 9-mile long tunnel that brings the water to Lake Whatcom, helping to regulate the city's water reserves.
Three pairs of concrete and steel structures would be built in the river, McKinley said. The structures would funnel water flowing into the river, speeding up the water and creating washouts, or deep pools. Water from the deep pools would then be filtered through screened, self-cleaning cylinders and sent into the existing tunnel. The cylinders are designed to protect juvenile and adult salmon that might be in the water as it's forced through the tunnel.
A state salmon recovery board grant already paid for the $512,000 cost of designing the project.
Removal of the dam would open up 14 miles of salmon habitat to steelhead and chinook salmon. Chinook are listed as "threatened" on the federal Endangered Species List.
The city, state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Tribe have worked for several years to come up with a design for a fish ladder that would allow salmon to wiggle and jump their way up the rock and concrete falls at the dam built by the city in 1962.
Cost estimates for the fish ladder ranged from $6 million to $9 million and the city faced paying an additional $2 million worth of repairs to the dam.
The diversion not only affects the level of Lake Whatcom, but also water quality in the lake. The city depends on the mixing of the water from streams around the lake and fresh water from the middle fork to reduce the amount of pollutants in the water before it's treated for use as drinking water.
Local tribes have already begun releasing hatchery-raised chinook salmon above the diversion dam to help acclimate the fish to the water and encourage the fish to make their way back into the middle fork when they return to spawn.
"It looks like we have a good chance to pull this off," said Bob Kelly, the Nooksack Tribe's Natural Resources director. "I'm happy with the design and to have the governor on board as another one of the partners in this is very encouraging."
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