Legislative Funding kick-starts Deschutes Watershed Center
by Emmett O'Connell
With over $7 million in state funding, the Deschutes Watershed Center in Tumwater will finally start taking shape in the coming years.
The watershed center will be a fully functional salmon hatchery operated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. It will enhance existing state hatchery operations at Tumwater Falls Park. The project will also entail a new facility at upstream Pioneer Park and will create new opportunities for community involvement.
"We want to make this much more than a salmon hatchery," said Andy Whitener, natural resources director for the Squaxin Island Tribe. As natural resources co-managers, the tribe has been working closely with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and other local partners for 10 years to fund the project.
In addition to a new rearing facility, the watershed center will also educate the local community about salmon. "There is a real opportunity here for this facility to be a showpiece our region's hatchery system," said Jeff Dickison, assistant natural resources director for the tribe.
"The watershed project will provide needed trail connections from the new hatchery facility at Pioneer Park to the Deschutes Falls fish ladder and beyond. People would be able to visit the hatchery and then walk all the way to saltwater," Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet stated. "This should help people understand the life cycle of the salmon and the importance of the Deschutes watershed as a whole in contributing to their survival."
Most of the funding provided by the legislature will go to renovate the existing facilities at Tumwater Falls. The remaining $1.3 million will go towards preparing the Pioneer Park site. This work will include building a water delivery system, expanding trails and installing educational signs.
"These funds won't finish out the project, but this will certainly get us down the road quite a bit," Dickison said.
Currently, all of the fish released at the Deschutes hatchery are raised in several other facilities around Puget Sound. By keeping all aspects of the hatchery in one facility, chances of spreading fish diseases decrease and salmon survival increases. Even though the number of fish raised and released won't increase from around 3.8 million annually, the number of chinook returning every year will.
"The current program on the Deschutes is piecemeal," Dickison said. "There isn't enough room to rear the fish that will eventually be released. To have a successful program, everything from spawning to rearing and release needs to be in the same place."
More than 30 percent of the fish produced at the Deschutes hatchery are caught in sport fisheries in Puget Sound. These anglers catch the largest portion of any fishery targeting Deschutes chinook. "These chinook are vital to a lot of fisheries because they're caught everywhere from Alaska to Budd Inlet," Whitener said. "They also provide the backbone for our own chinook fisheries."
For more information, contact: Jeff Dickison, Assistant Natural Resources Director, Squaxin Island Tribe, (360) 432-3815. Heidi Behrends Cerniwey, Communications & Marketing Specialist, City of Tumwater, (360) 754-4128, email@example.com
Emmett O'Connell is the South Sound information officer for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
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