Monday, October 15, 2012

Clearwater River Chinook Salmon: Working Together for a Common Goal

A fish hatchery is always a busy place and obstacles are common. Clean water, obviously the main ingredient for successful fish culture, is constantly monitored for oxygen, nitrogen, and proper flow. But what happens when the water source that the hatchery depends on is compromised?

The answer: collaborate and adapt- quickly!

Clearwater State Fish Hatchery/IDFG
On August 15th the main water line from Dworshak Dam to Clearwater Hatchery was damaged. The water line needed to be shut down in order to investigate and repair the damage. Because of the location of the intake pipe and uncertainty to the extent of the damage a ROV (remotely operated vehicle) was sent down the face of the dam to assess the damage and determine if both the main and secondary water lines would need to be shut down.

Clearwater's pipeline runs down the right side of the dam.

This left Clearwater Hatchery, our neighbors across the river, in short water supply. Fortunately, only the main waterline was damaged and the secondary pipeline was intact. But without the main they would not have enough water to supply all their outdoor rearing ponds. It became clear that in order to save the fish Clearwater would need to find some water.

Since Dworshak National Fish Hatchery is right across the river from Clearwater it was the logical place for a solution.

Both hatcheries can share reservoir water, but most of Dworshak’s water comes from the North Fork Clearwater River, about a mile below the Dam. The river water comes with its share of problems- the biggest is IHNV, a virus that can be deadly to steelhead. This is why Clearwater uses disease free reservoir water as its sole water source. Pumping river water to Clearwater Hatchery was not an option, but moving their fish to Dworshak was. So it was decided that Clearwater Fish Hatchery would move all of their 2011 Spring Chinook salmon over to the Burrow’s ponds at Dworshak.
IDFG employees doing maintenance on the primary water intake

Planning and preparing for the fish move was tough and took a lot of teamwork. With help from the Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Lower Snake River Compensation Program, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Army Corps of Engineers, we were able to prepare 25 Burrow’s ponds, improve our waste water system to accommodate the additional fish, and move 2.5 million juvenile Spring Chinook over in less than two weeks.

Clearwater spring Chinook salmon

A little over a month has gone by since the fish move and fish and staff are adjusting to the new routine. Clearwater’s Chinook will remain here until their release next spring. Now Clearwater can safely shutdown and repair their main waterline without losing any fish.

It is all about rearing healthy fish at our hatcheries and we are so glad that the quick action and cooperation between state, federal, and tribal agencies gave this story a happy ending.


  1. What damaged the main water line from Dworshak Dam to Clearwater Hatchery?

  2. A cable that holds the intake to the water line broke causing the intake to break free and damage the water line.

  3. I loved reading this piece! Well written! :)

    wilson roy
    professional carpet cleanin

  4. Thanks Wilson. Always love positive feedback :)