If all goes well over the next three years, thousands of fish will be able to leave Lake Cle Elum to head to the sea for the first time in eight decades.
Plans for the construction of a first-of-its kind tunnel allowing the fish to escape have made a huge step forward with the awarding of a $15.2 million contract.
“If we’re able to reintroduce those fish, we’ll see recreational benefits and a lot of ecological benefits to the system as well,” said Richard Visser, a project manager with the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s Yakima field office.
For untold centuries, salmon migrated up the Yakima and Cle Elum rivers and headed to the tributaries in the mountains. The offspring would then return to the sea. But that ended early in the last century when a dam was constructed, creating the lake.
Officials hope to remedy that by construction of a 1,250-foot tunnel that will allow trout and salmon — especially sockeye — access to the reservoir and headwaters. Northbank Civil & Marine Inc., a small business based in Vancouver, won the contract.
If the tunnel is successful, construction of a fishery on Lake Cle Elum could be next, Visser said.
Other benefits include a thriving wildlife ecosystem and greater opportunities for recreational fishermen.
The project is part of the $4 billion to $6 billion Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, a collaboration between state, federal, tribal and local groups to improve water management in the region for fish, farms, and communities over the next 30 years.
Construction is slated to begin next month, and is expected to be completed by late 2020; but Visser said construction may not begin until spring if workers don’t start before the first snows.
The bureau’s partners on the project are the state departments of Ecology and Fish and Wildlife, as well as the Yakama Nation, which began slowly…