Keeping the fish cool: Work project connects waterflow for salmon-rearing pond near Salmon Creek

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Good weather helped a work party run smoothly as volunteers dug a ditch to create circulation in a pond located in the perfect spot to be the site for salmon fry.

On Oct. 9, members of a number of conservation-minded groups came to a pond near Pleasant Valley Middle School to dig a ditch intended to correct inflow issues at the upper end of the pond.

Created in 2011, the pond serves as a cold water salmon habitat for young salmon. Jim Byrne, a retired fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and vice president of a local Trout Unlimited chapter, said the pond had a temperature of 60 degrees fahrenheit in July, whereas Salmon Creek itself was at about 72 degrees.

During the summer months, the pond serves as a cold water rearing habitat, while during the winter, it serves as a respite of sorts for fish outside of the stronger river flows, Byrne said. The ditch dug that day would supply fresh, oxygenated water to the top of the pond system on the grounds.

“Trout Unlimited, it’s got trout in the name. Everyone thinks that it’s a sportsman-related club, but there’s a real strong conservation interest to it,” Byrne said. 

He noted the past year was particularly hard on adult salmon populations.

“It’s been a record low. The number of fish going across the Bonneville (dam) is the lowest since Bonneville was built,” Byrne said.

Richard Dyrland, a retired hydrologist, said the pond serves as a location for fry in perilous situations. The fish relocate there in order to grow up healthy. He called the habitat a “gold mine” that just wasn’t working properly until the modifications were made.

“These sites are hard to find, with good water,” Dyrland said.

Dyrland designed the project, with assistance from Byrne, using their collective experience.

“This isn’t a feel good operation. This is a ‘getting results’ operation,” Dyrland said. “It’s really addressing a critical problem with things we know are affected. And it will look pretty afterward.”

Trout Unlimited member and Battle Ground resident Simon Gawesworth was on hand, having recently started as a fly fishing conservation and engagement coordinator in his professional life.

Gawesworth moved from the United Kingdom at the turn of the millennium and said he moved to Battle Ground because of the steelhead population. He said access to public lands in the U.K. isn’t as much of a thing as it is in the U.S. because most of the ponds and streams are on private property in the U.K.

“It’s very rare to have this collaborative effort that you get in the U.S.,” Gawesworth said in regard to conservation efforts at the pond.

“Being a passionate fly fisherman, I want to make sure (of) anything I can do to sustain the environment. … I’ve caught enough fish that I should actually try and do something to help them out,” Gawesworth said.

Salmon Creek Watershed board chair Jesse Barr helped write the grant application for $2,000 worth of funding for the project. He said it was unique given the urban setting.

“I’m hoping that we’re going to get some more projects like this going,” Barr said. “Salmon are pretty important culturally to people here in the Northwest. It’s important to give back. Salmon do a lot for the ecosystem.”

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