By the Walla Walla Union Bulletin
MILTON-FREEWATER — A new salmon hatchery here could double fish numbers in the South Fork Walla Walla and Touchet rivers from 250,000 now to about half a million annually, according to a release from the Bonneville Power Administration.
The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, which will manage the facility, began construction of the Walla Walla River Fish Hatchery on Friday with a ceremony at the hatchery site 10 miles east of town.
The new hatchery, which is an expansion of the existing adult fish holding and spawning facility at that site run by the Confederated Tribes, has been in the works for at least seven years based on BPA historical documents online.
The Walla Walla River Fish Hatchery should be ready to operate by spring of 2021, with the first salmon returns to the Walla Walla Basin by 2026, according to the release.
The Bonneville Power Administration is paying for the project as part of its Environment, Fish and Wildlife Program, which uses a portion of customers’ rates to help “protect and enhance fish and wildlife affected by federal hydropower dams,” the agency’s website explains.
Once complete, the hatchery is expected to return thousands of adult spring Chinook salmon to tributaries throughout the basin each year. The majority of the smolts will be released into the South Fork Walla Walla, with approximately 20% going to the nearby Touchet, according to the release.
“We are really pleased that this project is moving forward,” Kat Brigham, chairwoman of the Confederated Tribes, said in the release. “We expect the facility to produce more fish for the environment, our people and the region.”
The new hatchery will have egg incubation and full juvenile-rearing facilities. Currently eggs are incubated and fish are raised offsite before they are released into the South Fork Walla Walla River, the release detailed.
With the new hatchery, the Confederated Tribes can use river water to incubate and rear young salmon before releasing them, helping the fish to imprint on their birth streams.
The goal is to return approximately 5,000 adult salmon annually to the Walla Walla Basin, according to the report.
“This tribal hatchery is included in the Columbia Basin Fish Accords agreement with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and illustrates the progress we can make for fish when we all work together,” Scott Armentrout, vice president of BPA’s Environment, Fish and Wildlife Program, said in the release.
“The partnerships derived from the Accords also ensures BPA gets the highest value for the fish and wildlife investments it makes throughout the Northwest.”
Over the last three decades in the Walla Walla Basin, BPA and its local partners have invested approximately $40 million in fish habitat projects, the announcement stated.