Planning, Quick Thinking Limit Storm’s Impact on Skagit Salmon


Summer Chinook salmon spawn in the Skagit river from August through October each year. Managing river flows during heavy November rains protected the eggs those fish laid from being washed away. — Photo by Dave Bickford, courtesty of U.S. Forest Service

Careful planning, quick thinking and coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prevented major flooding and salmon egg losses on the Skagit River after a massive Thanksgiving week storm dumped nearly 11 inches of rain near City Light’s dams.

On Nov. 24, the National Weather Service forecasted a significant rain storm for the Skagit basin, similar in scope to storms in 1990 and 1995 that caused major floods downstream. In preparation, City Light power marketing and operations lowered the levels at Gorge and Diablo lakes to make room and reduce spill, and stopped generation at the Ross Powerhouse.

On Nov. 27, a day after the rains started, river flows at Concrete exceeded 90,000 cubic feet per second – about six times the average flow at that location. At that point, the Army Corps of Engineers took control of the City Light dams.

From Nov. 24 to 29, 10.87 inches of rain fell at the Diablo Powerhouse, raising Ross Lake 6.71 feet.  On Nov. 29, the Army Corp of Engineers released control of the Skagit project back to Seattle, as Concrete flows decreased below 80,000 cfs.

Despite the heavy rain and spills into the lower river, we were able to minimize flooding downstream, with only a 48-hour period when high river flows could scour Chinook and chum salmon redds. This was the direct result of lowering of lake levels ahead of the storm, an action that was planned early in the season in cooperation with the Skagit Flow Plan Coordinating Committee, a review board comprised of state, tribal, and federal fisheries resource agencies.

Lower Mapes Creek Restoration Project improves habitat for Lake Washington salmon

The Lower Mapes Creek Restoration Project in Beer Sheva Park is near completion.  This is the same Mapes Creek that flows through Kubota Garden and Sturtevant Ravine.

In early 2014, Seattle Public Utilities, in partnership with Seattle Parks and Recreation, began a project to reroute Mapes Creek from entering a sewer pipe and take it in its own dedicated pipe to Beer Sheva Park and Lake Washington in support of salmon habitat.  The project required installing several hundred feet of a pipe under the 52nd Ave walkway and S Henderson St. and building a new natural creek channel in the park where the pipe could release the water to flow into the lake.

The restored connection to the lakeshore is important to juvenile Chinook salmon who migrate from the Cedar River to Puget Sound along the lakeshore.  They use creek mouths to feed and rest on their long journey to salt water.

The creek restoration project also includes a new pathway, pedestrian bridge and public art by John Grade.  A celebratory opening event will be planned next spring.

The Lower Mapes Creek Restoration Project was a joint project with SPU’s 52nd Ave. S. Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Reduction Project.

Salmon and stewards return to Piper’s Creek in Carkeek Park

Community members visit the Salmon Stewards in Carkeek Park.

Our everyday actions impact Seattle’s salmon population whether we realize it or not. We encourage everyone to make sure it is a positive impact.

In 1980, volunteers from Carkeek Watershed Community Action Project began a salmon enhancement project in Piper’s Creek in partnership with the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW). Today the Suquamish Tribe’s Grover’s Creek Hatchery provides chum salmon as fingerlings for release into Piper’s Creek and eggs for local schools to raise.

Carkeek Park’s chum salmon will return to Piper’s Creek later this fall, which means it’s time to train the next group of Salmon Stewards to educate community members. The Salmon Stewards Program is a community volunteer program funded and collaboratively run by Seattle Public Utilities’ (SPU) Restore Our Waters program and Seattle Parks and Recreation.

November to early December is the best time to witness Pacific Northwest salmon in an urban stream.

SPU Urban Watershed Educator Bill Malatinsky said that for a long time Carkeek Park’s habitat was “battered and bruised,” but community members recognized its potential for salmon production and soon a restoration project was underway.

About 70,000 chum fingerlings are first introduced into the Les Malmgren imprinting pond at Carkeek Park each winter, and 5,000 additional eggs are provided to elementary schools that raise and release their salmon into the imprint pond at Carkeek Park each spring. The young chum are held in the pond under the care of diligent volunteers and fed for about three weeks to imprint them to the “smell” of the creek system, which helps them return as adults to spawn.

After two to five years at sea, the chum salmon return to Piper’s Creek as adult fish, ready to spawn. Malatinsky said anywhere from 60-600 salmon pass through Piper’s Creek every fall.

This year’s Salmon Steward training will be held from 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 25 at the Carkeek Park Environmental Learning Center. No experience is necessary. Malatinsky said he’s had stewards ranging from preteens to senior citizens.

College student Anne Wang has been a Salmon Steward since 2008. She had fond memories of Carkeek Park as a kid and said when she saw a flier for the program at her community college she thought it’d be a perfect way to give back.

“As far as I know, Piper’s Creek is the only stocked chum run in Seattle, so it’s an important resource to gather information about salmon,” Wang said.

Wang said the stewards usually talk to about 300 people in the park every weekend. She said many walkers, joggers and families stop by during their park visits.

Salmon Steward Anne Wang

“A lot of people in our area are knowledgeable about salmon, so it’s cool to interact with them. We as volunteers get to share and learn, and it’s a good way to connect people to their local park,” Wang said.

Trained Salmon Stewards like Wang will be tabling and facilitating observations of Coho and chum salmon at Piper’s Creek in Carkeek Park from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 8 – Dec. 7. The community is encouraged to visit and learn about perpetuating salmon habitat and simply take in an incredible sight.

“The experience in Carkeek Park is unique in the sense that it’s a small creek and there are a lot of access points,” Malatinsky said. “You can stand on a foot bridge and watch salmon swim between your feet. Salmon are a valuable species and they fascinate us. Every day people affect water quality by what they allow to be carried from their streets into storm drains. We all have an effect on our salmon.”

For more information on becoming a Salmon Steward, or to register for training, contact Bill Malatinsky at or 206-684-5999. To stay updated on fish sightings at Piper’s Creek, follow the Salmon Stewards on Facebook.

City Light Manages Skagit Flows to Protect 300,000 Salmon Eggs

Salmon eggs and fry in a redd, or nest.

Summer Chinook salmon spawn in the Skagit river from August through October each year — Photo by Dave Bickford, courtesty of U.S. Forest Service

Many Chinook salmon eggs laid in the Skagit River system last fall faced grim prospects for survival amid challenging water conditions. But a coordinated effort by Seattle City Light working with state and federal resource agencies and tribes along with an exceptionally wet March and April gave more than 300,000 of them the chance to grow up.

“From November through February, this appeared to be one of the worst water years we had seen in quite a while. It was some great teamwork and a huge increase in precipitation in March and April that really turned things around,” said Dave Clement, Resource Planning, Forecasting, and Analysis Director for City Light.

Chinook salmon spawning season typically lasts from mid-August to mid-October each year. This past September, during the peak of spawning activity, record rainfall levels allowed chinook salmon to dig nest sites in areas that would be dry when water levels returned to normal.

The summer Chinook salmon are a federally-listed species with Endangered Species Act protection. But dry weather conditions from November 2013 through February of this year meant those salmon eggs were likely to be left out to dry and die.

“The situation required the release of far more water from the hydro project than we had originally planned so as to protect as many of the salmon nest sites as possible,” explained David Pflug, fisheries biologist at City Light.

City Light manages flow levels in the Skagit River system to meet a several key objectives each year: protecting fish that live and spawn in the river downstream, generating sufficient power to meet the energy needs of our customers throughout the year, preventing floods downstream of the dams and keeping the river and Ross Lake at elevations that permit recreation such as boating and fishing. In addition, Ross Lake serves an important function as a reservoir to hold water that is used to generate electricity in drier times during the year.

The trick is managing the right water levels for each of these objectives, while working with highly variable precipitation levels that are ultimately decided on by Mother Nature.

That’s the situation City Light found itself in earlier this year. The region had one of the lowest levels of precipitation in more than a decade from November to February, and was facing perhaps one of the worst water years in history.

Ross Dam on the Skagit River creates Ross Lake, which is full for summer recreation and hydropower generation.

Pflug works closely with the utility’s Resource Planning staff, who plan optimum water levels. He discovered that there were many Chinook salmon redds spawned high on the riverbank in September during the rainy spawning season. The dry weather conditions during winter meant it would be difficult to protect the redds under normal operations.

That information went to the Skagit Project Flow Coordinating Committee comprised of state, federal fisheries resource agencies and tribe. City Light’s Resource Planning team worked with the committee to come up with a plan to protect the nest sites, which required the release of additional water and taking the risk of not being able to refill Ross Lake for use later in the year. With the survival of the Chinook at stake, the plan was approved.

City Light kept the river flow levels up to protect the salmon nests from November of 2013 to May of 2014. It took a significant amount of teamwork, including daily monitoring of water elevation levels and careful management to ensure the protection of the nests. Coordination between multiple divisions ensued, including Pflug, Power Management planners Ole Kjosnes and Don Tinker, the Power Marketing team and the System Control Center team. Continuing dry conditions also worried resource planners about the ability refill Ross Lake, which powers Ross Dam through the summer and is a key recreational area within the North Cascades National Park complex.


These graphs show the cumulative snowpack and precipitation levels, measured in inches. The blue line is the average level, while the green line tracks the dry water year of 2014. The yellow line, by way of comparison, measures levels during the severe dry spell of water year 2001.

Then came the wettest March in history.

And more precipitation in April.

That rain and the snow that fell higher up in the mountains provided the water for City Light to protect the redds and refill the lake. This voluntary effort resulted in the protection of 31 nest sites that would have otherwise been lost– a resounding success, especially considering their initial odds of survival.

Those 31 redds add up to approximately 300,000 protected salmon eggs.

A full Ross Lake will allow for increased river flows through July, enabling better protection of Steelhead that will be spawning the Skagit River and additional energy generation from City Light’s Ross, Diablo and Gorge hydroelectric dams.

“It was a good thing we released more water than we normally would have – because that made room in Ross Lake to collect more of the large amount of water that came in March and April and avoided some spill through the spill gates,” Clement said. “So in a way, the fish helped us out, too.”

Seattle City Light is the 10th-largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to nearly 750,000 Seattle-area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction. More information at: