Buckley Dam: Stop killing the salmon

Guest Opinion: After years of delay, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a deadline to fix the fish-killing structure. But will the work happen?
Crosscut archive image.

A dead salmon at Buckley Dam

Guest Opinion: After years of delay, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a deadline to fix the fish-killing structure. But will the work happen?

The annual return of salmon to the White River, which flows from the Emmons Glacier on Mount Rainier to the Puyallup River, is a cause for celebration among Indian tribes, anglers and everyone who appreciates the unique place salmon hold in the culture of the Pacific Northwest. But that joy turns to dread when thousands of the fish are killed at the 100-year-old Buckley Diversion Dam. Buckley Dam’s fish passage system is terribly outdated, and thousands of salmon - often hundreds of thousands – die as they try to make their way upstream to spawn.

If you visited the Buckley Dam in August or September of 2013, you would have seen an appalling sight: thousands of pink salmon unable to reach their spawning grounds, battered and exhausted, dead and dying below the dam. 

Now there is a sign of hope, with a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and operates the dam, must upgrade both the fish passage system and the dam itself by 2020 in order to protect salmon and comply with the Endangered Species Act.

This is good news. Thanks to the tireless advocacy of the Puyallup and Muckleshoot tribes and conservationists around the Sound, we finally have the attention of Army Corps and NOAA leadership. But the Army Corps has promised and failed to deliver fixes at the dam before, and the salmon of Puget Sound can’t afford further delay. The fish kills will continue until the upgrades are complete.

We all have a responsibility to hold the Army Corps accountable for the upgrades at Buckley Dam and ensuring the future of salmon on the White River for the communities that depend on them culturally and economically.

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As the NOAA report makes clear, Band-Aid-style repairs and maintenance have proven woefully inadequate to solve the problems at Buckley Dam.

Each year, taxpayers spend more than $150 million on salmon restoration in the streams around Puget Sound. Buckley Dam undermines this significant investment, threatening the survival and recovery of Puget Sound Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout. American Rivers and other groups partners will seek the help of  Washington’s congressional delegation to provide the Army Corps with the funding needed to fix Buckley Dam — estimated at $60 million — and we will also work to hold the Army Corps to the repair schedule.

Replacing the dam and fish passage system no later than 2020 is the right thing to do for these invaluable salmon runs – and for the many communities that depend on them. 


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