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NW Fishletter #390, February 4, 2019

[1] Seattle Company Awaits Permits To Send Chinook Over Chief Joseph

Whooshh Innovations, a Seattle company that developed a new fish passage system, is making plans to use its so-called "salmon cannon" to send returning adult Chinook over Chief Joseph Dam this summer.

Located below Grand Coulee Dam near Bridgeport, Wash., the 236-foot tall hydroelectric dam has no fish ladders and has blocked anadromous fish since it was built in 1955.

If the necessary permits are in place by July, these migratory fish will be finding their way to a temporary barge near the base of the dam and into a system that uses pressure differentials to push each fish through an irrigated flexible tube stretching up and over the dam. From there, they can continue through Rufus Woods Lake to the base of Grand Coulee Dam, which will block further passage.

Whooshh CEO Vince Bryan presented his company's system to the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee Jan. 29, and asked for $2 million to help fund the new barge. Another $100,000 in requested funds would help install a fish scanning device on one of the fish ladders at Bonneville Dam, so the company can design software to recognize the different species that make their way past the dam.

Providing safe fish passage, separating hatchery fish from wild fish, removing invasive species, producing more Chinook for orcas and leaving more water in the river for power production are all ways that Whooshh technology could help solve many of the salmon recovery problems facing the state today, Bryan said. He also asked for written support to help convince federal agencies of its importance.

The salmon cannon was first developed to efficiently move fruit in packing sheds without bruising, Michael Messina, Whooshh's director of market development, told the committee. He said the company recognized there was a far greater need to safely move fish past dams, and brought together experts not strictly involved in fisheries to find an innovative approach to problems that have plagued fish passage.

"Going up a ladder is exhausting for fish," Bryan said. "Going up the Whooshh system is like taking the first step of a ladder, and after that, taking an elevator the rest of the way."

Now, with numerous studies showing that the Whooshh process does not harm fish and that adult salmon survive in better shape than those that travel through fish ladders, Whooshh is putting its technology to work, he said.

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Chief Joseph Dam. Photo: K.C. Mehaffey

Among the studies was one in 2016 where the company showed it could transport salmon a distance of 1,100 feet with a 100-foot elevation in about 35 seconds. The hatchery fish were then observed for one to three months and no differences were found in adult survival or egg viability.

The technology can also separate wild and hatchery fish by recognizing presence of an adipose fin. "It can sort the fish real time, as they're going upstream," Bryan told the committee, adding, "Our first sale in 2014 was because of a lawsuit on the Washougal River, where they had to separate the wild from the hatchery fish."

In an interview with NW Fishletter, Bryan explained that although the installations at Bonneville and Chief Joseph dams will further test the system, they could also be a first step toward stabilizing hydropower in the Columbia Basin and achieving a carbon-free energy grid in Washington state. "We have the opportunity to get there relatively quickly if we use hydropower in the right way," Bryan said. That's because the Whooshh system is only a fraction of the cost of a new fish ladder, and because it's not permanent, so permitting is faster.

Salmon cannons could also replace existing fish ladders in the Columbia River, where between 1.7 and 14 percent of the water is now going through fish ladders, depending on the dam, Messina said.

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Whooshh scanners capture photo-like images, such as this steelhead. Credit: Whooshh Innovations

With Bonneville Power Administration struggling to survive in a changing energy market, Bryan said, their system could not only solve adult fish passage problems but also enable dam operators to use the water now diverted to the fish ladders and instead send it through turbines to produce more power and help Washington reach its clean energy goals.

More successful adult migration will result in far more juvenile fish, which should mitigate for concerns about juvenile passage, he added. "Really, a lot of the problem can be resolved simply by having more adults successfully spawning, and removing invasive predators so you have more juveniles," he said.

This year's projects at Bonneville Dam, and at Chief Joseph Dam, if permits are issued, will help move that effort forward, Bryan said, adding, "This is a real opportunity for a full demonstration of the system."

At Bonneville, the company will design and build the fish scanner, and is asking for funding so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can hire a contractor to install it. The scanner will enable fish managers to get a clear look at each fish passing through the ladder, capturing a photo-quality image in about one-half second, without handling or stressing the fish, Messina said. Scans are so detailed they show identifying marks or other things, such as scratches which are likely unsuccessful attempts by sea lions to capture them, he said.

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The barge that Whooshh Innovations hopes to launch on the Columbia River below Chief Joseph Dam this summer. Credit: Whooshh Innovations

Information gathered at Bonneville this year will be shared with fishery managers, including the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which is interested in using the scans to help estimate the steelhead runs, he said.

At Chief Joseph Dam, only summer Chinook salmon will be sent over the dam, in order to avoid concerns with Endangered Species Act-listed species, Bryan said.

The reservoir above the dam is "a perfect lab," he said, because there is a hatchery at the base of the dam to ensure plenty of adults, but no salmon between Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dam.

In addition to survival and migration to Grand Coulee Dam, the company can also study other aspects of the salmon cannon, including how quickly the fish make it over the dam, their condition, size and time of day they migrate. "It's a full example of the capability of the system," he said.

Bryan said that although permitting efforts stalled during the partial government shutdown, he's hopeful the federal agencies can make up for lost time.

In the video shown to the Senate committee, Bryan noted the system could help save both fish and hydropower in areas where passage is an issue. "There are 85,000 dams or so in this country-only a fraction of those have fish passage," he said. "To take down 85,000 dams, if you took down one a day it's going to take over 230 years, and we're not going to have any fish by that point. Or we can put in 11 Whooshh systems, and in 20 years have fish passage on every dam in the country." -K.C. Mehaffey

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Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: K.C. Mehaffey
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