By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Tribal officials said the failure was in a secondary pump that had to be used because of ongoing sediment problems at Olympic National Park’s Elwha Water Treatment Plant.
Hatchery staff counted roughly 200,000 dead coho salmon, spawned last fall, and about 2,000 dead yearling steelhead trout at the hatchery over the weekend, Lower Elwha Klallam tribal officials said in a statement released Wednesday.
Hatchery officials said the coho deaths represented about 50 percent of this year’s production.
The dead fish were reported after an “electrical incident” caused a pump at the hatchery to stop circulating water through the facility.
Tribal officials said water circulation was restored quickly, and hatchery management was working with its electrical and engineering contractors to figure out what exactly happened.
The pump was part of a secondary water circulation system in use since December after the national park’s Elwha Water Treatment Plant stopped producing enough treated water for use at the hatchery, tribal officials said.
They said the water circulation system was supposed to be used only on a short-term basis but has been used continuously since then.
“The problems at the surface water-treatment facility have forced us to adapt our hatchery’s water reuse system to a longer-term usage,” Lower Elwha Tribal Chairperson Francis Charles said in the statement.
“The tribe is committed to effective restoration of the Elwha River and its fisheries, but there is no question that we are incurring additional costs as a result of this situation.” The Elwha Water Treatment Plant, operated by a private contractor on behalf of the National Park Service, has been operating at reduced capacity since fall after park officials found Elwha River sediment, released from the multimillion-dollar Elwha River dams and restoration project, was unexpectedly entering the plant and clogging the inner workings.
In April, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, operating a separate fish hatchery along the Elwha River, attributed the deaths of year-old chinook salmon, which were found along the Elwha banks, to heavy sedimentation in the river.
Observers estimated that hundreds of fish died. Fish and Wildlife officials have said a final number of dead chinook from the April incident likely will never be available.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.