Scientists hoping to restore salmon in Ellensburg - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Scientists hoping to restore salmon in Ellensburg

Posted: Updated:
 ELLENSBURG, Wash. (AP) - The settlers who founded Ellensburg in the 1870s were likely drawn by the plentiful water in creeks crisscrossing the valley, but as the city expanded, it grew right over those streams.
    
Look at a Google map of downtown Ellensburg and you'll see Wilson Creek wind across Main Street. Walk the block, however, and there's no sign of flowing water.
    
The creek, one of many in the valley that once supported salmon, now flows in culverts below the streets for about half a mile. Several blocks to the northwest, Mercer Creek runs below a motel parking lot. Across town, the creek briefly surfaces and then runs back underground, looking on a map like scattered stitches on a quilt.
    
Today, the sections of creeks trapped in concrete are one of the reasons that the wild salmon that used to swim here are extinct.
    
What exactly the creeks look like beneath the city remains a bit of a mystery. But Central Washington University scientists have discovered juvenile salmon can still survive in the city's urban creeks.
    
Biology Professor Paul James and his former student, Kelsey Martin, hope their findings remind Ellensburg residents that the creeks exist and that with some restoration, salmon might be able to spawn in their midst.
    
Ellensburg isn't alone. Cities around the country were built on top of small creeks and streams, but a growing number are now choosing to uncover them. Advocates say the practice, known as "daylighting," can be cheaper than repairing aging culverts, create desirable waterfront parks or property, provide wildlife habitat, and improve water quality and flood control.
    
Seattle, Port Angeles, and Vancouver, British Columbia, are among the cities that have undertaken daylighting projects.
    
Culverts can be metal pipes or concrete tunnels of various shapes and sizes that contain and convey flowing water below roads, buildings and yards. On Central's campus, removing an old dorm created the opportunity to daylight Wilson Creek for a block by replacing a culvert with a winding channel and planting native vegetation to make a small park.
    
Planners and engineers for the city of Ellensburg say that the city built over the creeks in lots of small projects over time and that records for what kind of culverts were used in long-ago construction are scarce. Records show that Wilson Creek was routed through a concrete culvert in 1914 below Water and Main streets.
    
Along Fifth Avenue, the sidewalk was built over section of creek in 1950, but the water still runs in a gravel bed below, not a concrete or metal culvert, according to city records.
    
The city does have a separate stormwater system, said senior planner Lance Bailey, but the system also discharges into creeks at points.
    
To study the viability of salmon in Ellensburg's buried creeks, Martin and James released 6,000 coho into the creeks. They dumped the fish in two creeks, north of the city before the creeks go underground and south of the city, and then tracked them for a year until the surviving fish headed for the Pacific Ocean.
    
"This wasn't some crazy idea I just had, fish biologists have been wondering for years about what is going on in these creeks under the city," James said. "Once you get above the city limits, there's some really nice stretches for spawning and rearing."
    
Fish from the creeks were recorded at McNary Dam on the Columbia River, but far more Mercer Creek fish survived than Wilson Creek fish.
    
Out of 1,500 fish released above the buried sections in each creek, about 140 Mercer Creek fish made it to the Columbia, compared to just 75 Wilson Creek fish.
    
Yakama Nation coho biologist Todd Newsome said that James and Martin's findings will help him plan future efforts to reintroduce coho to the region.
    
The Yakama Fisheries plans to develop a coho hatchery program in Ellensburg, which, like its spring chinook hatchery in Cle Elum, would be designed to specifically breed salmon that have adapted to survive the challenges of today's Yakima Basin.
    
Figuring out in advance which creeks have potential habitat and which do not will help the eventual reintroduction succeed, Newsome said.
    
Each fish Martin released was raised at the Yakama Hatchery in Prosser and carried a tiny, injected tag. The tags, known as PIT tags, are programmed with identification codes that can be read by a scanning device. Martin spent the summer with that device, dodging spiderwebs to climb through 15 above-ground sections of the creeks around town to look for her fish, or their remains.
    
Living fish swim around, so Martin recorded the signal from their tags in different locations. But if a fish gets eaten, the rice-size tag will eventually pass through the predator and continue to give off a signal whereever it gets deposited. Tags from fish that die will settle on the creekbed with the bones.
    
On the university campus, a restored section of Wilson Creek flows below the shade of lush wetland plants, providing what James called great fish habitat. But no salmon swam up here to take advantage of it.
    
Newsome said that typically, juveniles wander both up and downstream, looking for a good place to feed and hide and grow for a year. But Martin found that none of the fish she released below the buried sections ventured upstream and survived.
    
At the end of the small campus park, the water flows into a grate and under Seventh Avenue, not to surface again for half a mile.
    
When the water emerges again, it spills into the sunlight from a dark concrete channel in a back alley behind a Main Street restaurant, looking less like a creek and more like runoff. Martin says she found a pile of PIT tags there, suggesting that the underground section is bad news for the young fish.
    
"There were like 66 tags right there," Martin said. "What we don't know is if there's a bird here that's eaten them or if they died under there."
    
The parking lot seemed like unlikely habitat for a fish-eating bird, but if the fish died somewhere inside concrete culverts, it would make sense that their tags would be washed out to the pool below, Martin said. As far as why the fish could swim downstream but not up through the buried creek, she and James could only speculate.
    
James said he has requested a cost estimate from industrial scuba divers to survey the buried creeks, but he's not sure if such a study would be feasible.
    
Newsome interpreted the data to suggest that further study should focus on Mercer Creek, where there appears to be better habitat.
    
"Just looking at the first year of data, Wilson Creek in the city is no good," Newsome said. "Either it's blocked by physical debris or there is a whole bunch of big brook trout in there. Usually dark means predators."
    
About 5 percent of the fish released above that buried section survived swimming through it and made it to the Columbia River, Newsome said. That's less than half the normal 10 to 15 percent survival he has seen in previous studies in lower Wilson Creek, outside of town, and what Martin and James recorded in Mercer Creek, which has several shorter buried sections.
    
Overwinter survival of juveniles is just one piece of the puzzle for successfully reintroducing coho, Newsome said. Spawning and rearing habitat are just as important, and they don't always occur in the same streams, he added.
    
"Mercer Creek needs more investigation," Newsome said. "It could be that part of it's really good habitat and we could load it up with fish."
    
That's down the road, he adds. Releasing 6,000 fish might sound like a lot, but Newsome said from all those fish, the odds are that only a few adults will survive to return to spawn this fall.
    
Those that do make it will likely alter their course - there's few gravel beds for spawning in the concrete channels of the urban creeks. Yet.
    
Looking down at creek pouring out from the culvert in the downtown alley, James spotted a small fish. Not a salmon, but a fish.

"Even as unnatural as it is, it's still a functioning stream," he said. "I think it would be so cool in a few years to see a coho salmon run in Ellensburg."
___
    
Information from: Yakima Herald-Republic, http://www.yakimaherald.com

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)



  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • 13 semi-trucks park under Detroit overpass to help man considering suicide

    13 semi-trucks park under Detroit overpass to help man considering suicide

    Tuesday, April 24 2018 12:41 PM EDT2018-04-24 16:41:55 GMT

    DETROIT - 13 semi-truck drivers parked their big rigs under a highway overpass early Tuesday morning to help shorten the fall of a man who was threatening to jump.  All lanes of Highway 696 were closed early Tuesday morning after a call came in just before 1:00 a.m. of a man threatening to jump.  

    >>

    DETROIT - 13 semi-truck drivers parked their big rigs under a highway overpass early Tuesday morning to help shorten the fall of a man who was threatening to jump.  All lanes of Highway 696 were closed early Tuesday morning after a call came in just before 1:00 a.m. of a man threatening to jump.  

    >>
  • Pierce County woman wakes up to stranger in her house rubbing her face

    Pierce County woman wakes up to stranger in her house rubbing her face

    Tuesday, April 24 2018 1:11 AM EDT2018-04-24 05:11:05 GMT

    PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. - A Pierce County woman was terrified over the weekend when she woke up to a stranger in her house rubbing her face. She ran to her neighbor's house and the neighbor contacted the Pierce County Sheriff's Office at around 5:30 a.m. on Sunday. Arriving deputies spoke with the neighbor who called 911. 

    >>

    PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. - A Pierce County woman was terrified over the weekend when she woke up to a stranger in her house rubbing her face. She ran to her neighbor's house and the neighbor contacted the Pierce County Sheriff's Office at around 5:30 a.m. on Sunday. Arriving deputies spoke with the neighbor who called 911. 

    >>
  • Thief steals military man’s gift for little brother

    Thief steals military man’s gift for little brother

    Tuesday, April 24 2018 2:09 AM EDT2018-04-24 06:09:15 GMT

    SPOKANE, Wash. - A Spokane mother is heartbroken because what a thief took from her family was so much more than just a piece of mail. One of her sons serving in the military, stays connected with his little brother through video games, so he sent him one as a gift. However, the little brother never got it because the thief took it right off their front porch.

    >>

    SPOKANE, Wash. - A Spokane mother is heartbroken because what a thief took from her family was so much more than just a piece of mail. One of her sons serving in the military, stays connected with his little brother through video games, so he sent him one as a gift. However, the little brother never got it because the thief took it right off their front porch.

    >>
HD DOPPLER 6i
/
  • Top Stories from KHQHomeMore>>

  • Spokane woman searching for retired firefighter who helped after crash

    Spokane woman searching for retired firefighter who helped after crash

    Tuesday, April 24 2018 8:39 PM EDT2018-04-25 00:39:27 GMT

    SPOKANE, Wash. - A Spokane woman is on a mission to find a retired firefighter who helped her in a time of need. She says when a car slammed into her and her airbags went off, all she could feel was panic, but then someone stepped in to help almost immediately after the crash. It was Mariah Horn’s first car crash that happened on Wednesday at around 8:00 p.m. at the intersection of Country Homes Boulevard and Cedar.

    >>

    SPOKANE, Wash. - A Spokane woman is on a mission to find a retired firefighter who helped her in a time of need. She says when a car slammed into her and her airbags went off, all she could feel was panic, but then someone stepped in to help almost immediately after the crash. It was Mariah Horn’s first car crash that happened on Wednesday at around 8:00 p.m. at the intersection of Country Homes Boulevard and Cedar.

    >>
  • VIDEO: Car prowler caught on camera in Spokane’s West Central Neighborhood

    VIDEO: Car prowler caught on camera in Spokane’s West Central Neighborhood

    Tuesday, April 24 2018 8:30 PM EDT2018-04-25 00:30:26 GMT

    SPOKANE, Wash. - Neighbors who live in the West Central district are urging each other to be vigilant after a car prowler was caught on camera. The video footage taken from the area of Elm and Maxwell shows a man walk up to a car, look around, and try to open the door, then he vanishes. “I’m still on edge,” said Erica Milward. “I constantly look out the window at night just to see because I kind of feel violated.” Milward says a prowler was peaking 

    >>

    SPOKANE, Wash. - Neighbors who live in the West Central district are urging each other to be vigilant after a car prowler was caught on camera. The video footage taken from the area of Elm and Maxwell shows a man walk up to a car, look around, and try to open the door, then he vanishes. “I’m still on edge,” said Erica Milward. “I constantly look out the window at night just to see because I kind of feel violated.” Milward says a prowler was peaking 

    >>
  • 2 Dallas police officers wounded in shooting outside store

    2 Dallas police officers wounded in shooting outside store

    Tuesday, April 24 2018 8:09 PM EDT2018-04-25 00:09:51 GMT

    DALLAS (AP) - Two Dallas police officers have been critically wounded in a shooting outside a hardware store.    The shooting happened about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday outside a Home Depot in northern Dallas.    The Dallas Police Department tweeted about the shooting, giving the conditions of the officers. But it did not immediately provide other details.

    >>

    DALLAS (AP) - Two Dallas police officers have been critically wounded in a shooting outside a hardware store.    The shooting happened about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday outside a Home Depot in northern Dallas.    The Dallas Police Department tweeted about the shooting, giving the conditions of the officers. But it did not immediately provide other details.

    >>