GRAND COULEE DAM — The new Columbia River Treaty should include provisions to put in fish ladders on Grand Coulee Dam and Chief Joseph Dam, a group of environmental educators says.
To get the point across the educators with Voyages of Rediscovery are traveling in canoes up the river from the ocean to the Canadian border, talking to people about the idea along the way.
People who live along the lower Columbia River generally don’t know that two dams in the river’s upper reaches have no means for salmon passage, said Adam Wicks-Arshack.
They started the journey Aug. 1 at the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, reaching Wenatchee last week, and paddling up to the base of Grand Coulee Dam on Saturday.
“The first 545 miles have salmon, and we saw them all over,” he said. “Now, we’re getting into areas where there used to be salmon, and there aren’t anymore.”
He said he hopes their journey raises awareness about the upcoming treaty with Canada, and that fish passage at the two dams could be part of that discussion.
“When we talked to people about bringing the salmon back above the dams, people on the lower Columbia aren’t even aware that salmon don’t make it up here. That was a shock to a lot of people,” Wicks-Arshack said from the Grand Coulee Dam area on Friday.
Voyages of Rediscovery spent the last year carving the five canoes with students from schools in Inchelium, Wellpinit and Spokane where salmon can no longer return.
Wicks-Arshack said after making their first canoe, one of the students thought it looked like a salmon, so they decided it would represent one.
Students from other schools did the same.
In canoes named “Crying Salmon,” and “Salmon Savior,” the crew paid tribute to salmon who could no longer reach their historic spawning grounds.
He said at the time when Grand Coulee Dam was built, it was considered the greatest engineering project in the world. “I think a fish ladder at Grand Coulee Dam could be the greatest eco-engineering project of our time,” he said, adding, “Nobody’s told me it’s impossible.”
After continuing their journey to the Canadian border, Wicks-Arshack said they will return the canoes to the schools that made them, and talk to students about what they learned in their journey.