Bonneville Power Administration
BPA comes to the rescue for utility customer, millions of young fish
BPA crews at Bell Substation readied a 115/34.9-kilovolt transformer to hit the road to answer an emergency at Clearwater Power in north central Idaho. Transporting and installing the unit, which measures 35 feet long and 13½ feet high, cost $60,000.
With its workforce, expertise and equipment, the Bonneville Power Administration is primed and positioned to make a difference in the Northwest. As it has shown so often in its 80 years of service, when the call is urgent, Bonneville gets the chance to do what it does best.
The following story - involving time-sensitive teamwork across the public power, transmission, and fish and wildlife communities - is one example of BPA swinging into action to help partners around the region in an emergency.
Steve Rodgers was home in north central Idaho one weekend night in November when he got the kind of emergency phone call nobody wants to receive.
As he set off in his truck for the eight-mile drive down the hillside overlooking the Clearwater River to the large fish hatchery he helps manage, he saw a complete sea of blackness in the populated canyon below.
"There was not a light on anywhere; not in Ahsahka, or Orofino, or Riverside, or at the dam or hatchery complex," he says. "It was kind of eerie, almost apocalyptic."
In fact, it might be similar to how it looked in autumn 1805, when Lewis and Clark camped there, near the confluence of the Clearwater River and its North Fork. "Ahsahka," or the place where two rivers meet in the language of the Nez Perce, has been a renowned tribal fishing site since time immemorial.
Two hundred years later, fish are still the heart and soul of this picturesque slice of Idaho. They are sacred to Northwest tribes and highly prized by angling enthusiasts who support the north central Idaho tourist economy.
Nobody needed to tell Rodgers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's complex manager for Dworshak National Fish Hatchery, what an 1805 level of electricity could mean for the irreplaceable young fish being raised there. No power at a mega-hatchery that relies on electric pumps to provide water to the fish - with limited generator backup - meant the 4.5 million juvenile salmon and steelhead could be lost.
"Every generation of fish growing at this hatchery is critically important," Rodgers said. "They represent the future, and the years of work by tribal, state and federal governments to preserve them. The genetics they carry are unique to the North Fork, and cannot be lost."
On this November 2016 night, the next generation of salmon and steelhead had been raised from 2015's "eggs with eyeballs" into sleek 14-month-olds the size of a hand. Very soon, in early spring, Dworshak's unique class of 2017 would be released to carry the hopes of a salmon-loving region down the Columbia River 500 miles to the sea. Two years later, thousands of these fish would swim back from as far away as Alaska to their cradle in the Clearwater River as robust, exceptional adult spring chinook and steelhead.
One of the largest of its kind in the world, Dworshak National Fish Hatchery raises endangered steelhead and chinook salmon on the Clearwater River near Orofino, Idaho.
"This hatchery is one of the largest of its kind in the world," Rodgers says. "It's the cornerstone of tribal and sport fisheries in the Clearwater Basin.
"What's most special about it, in my mind, is that it's the home of the Idaho 'B-run' steelhead. These fish are much larger than other steelhead stocks. I'm looking at a male mounted on the wall in my office that's 40 inches long and 23 pounds. That's an impressively large fish, given all the energy he expended to swim here from the Pacific."
When Rodgers pulled into the hatchery that night, his Nez Perce Tribal and USFWS employees were racing the clock to restore power and move water around the sprawling complex of outdoor raceways, trying to stretch the life-giving fresh water.
It was the equivalent of an aquatic CPR operation. Ordinarily, the hatchery's six massive pumps move 75,000 gallons of oxygen-rich water every minute from the river to the fish, but with the power out, the emergency generators couldn't support all the pumps.
In the concrete ponds where they typically shoot and scatter like playful silver streaks, thousands of juvenile fish were suffocating, losing their ability to swim, flipping belly up in the tanks. More than 5,500 died that night.
That was a sight Rodgers never wanted to see.
"As those fish start to struggle and turn, that's a signal that you're right on the edge of losing the whole program," he says grimly. "To lose these fish now would be devastating to the region."
Click here to read the full press release.
For more information:
Bonneville Power Administration
905 NE Eleventh Ave
United States, 97208-3621