Flood blasts Tokul hatchery; Debris destroys intake for fish farm

Duane Richer, a specialist at the Tokul Creek Fish Hatchery, leans over the fast-moving new channel where creek-borne debris damaged the site’s water intake. The Jan. 7 flood narrowed the creek and cut off the hatchery from its main water supply. - Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Duane Richer, a specialist at the Tokul Creek Fish Hatchery, leans over the fast-moving new channel where creek-borne debris damaged the site’s water intake. The Jan. 7 flood narrowed the creek and cut off the hatchery from its main water supply.
— image credit: Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record

“We won!” The bulletin board outside the incubation room at the Tokul Creek Fish Hatchery still has words of triumph from last summer, when hatchery supporters succeeded in keeping the hatchery open in the face of a proposal to close it.

That triumph was nearly undone by the the fury of nature this winter.

Damage from the Jan. 7 flood hurt the hatchery structure itself, and some staff remain worried that ecological damage could make it hard for fish to find their way back to the site. If too few salmon make it up the creek, then the program won’t meet its target for new fish for the coming year.

For the present, the hatchery’s manager said the future looks stable for the Valley sport hatchery.

Doug Hatfield, the manager for the Cascade complex of hatcheries that include Snoqualmie and Skykomish, confirmed that the damage was the most dramatic the hatchery has seen in decades — probably ever.

“This is the most significant flood we’ve seen at Tokul Creek,” he said.

Technician Duane Richer was among hatchery crews trying to protect the intake pipes at 3 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 8, during the height of the flood. He watched as debris and flood-washed fallen trees changed the channel of Tokul Creek.

The flood debris narrowed the 80-foot-wide creek into a 40-foot channel. Water forced rocks into the intake, and snapping trees “sounded like a shot out of a gun,” Richer said.

Within hours, the new, powerful waterfall eroded away the hillside and blew out two-foot-wide intake pipes leading to the hatchery. Conditions were severe enough that hatchery staff nearly had to release the crop of young steelhead, due to be released in May. However, staff were able to save those fish.

Hatfield praised the “remarkable effort” by staff and support crews that kept the hatchery in operation.

Hatchery staff used gas-powered pumps and a replumbed well to bring water to the facility. Most of the hatchery’s trout rearing program was relocated to the Skykomish hatchery.

Hatfield said a temporary fix is in the works to reconnect the hatchery to its water source.

Hatfield estimated that it could cost upwards of $120,000 to put the intake back the way it was. Some of those funds will have to come from the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

“All this work and effort will be done under the assumption that FEMA relief will be there,” Hatfield said.

How much work will be needed is yet to be determined.

“We haven’t been able to get into the intake itself,” Hatfield said. “We have not been able to do a significant assessment of that structure.”

The current facility was built in the late 1950s or early ‘60s. The hatchery itself has existed since the early 20th century.

Inside the hatchery itself, a cool room with banks of tables await fish eggs to create fry for future season.

But some staff wonder whether the flood event will make it hard for adult salmon to return to the hatchery and spawn.

“We need 60 more girls,” said Richer.

“Returning fish numbers were not real strong to start with,” Hatfield said. “We’ve seen that through all areas of Puget Sound.”

However, Hatfield is optimistic that the hatchery will be able to meet its production goals for next year before the spawning season ends.

“Fish continued to return the hatchery during the flood event,” he said.

Tokul’s reputation is as strong as any hatchery in Puget Sound in terms of numbers of returning fish.

“For us, Tokul Creek is one of the most reliably consistent facilities,” Hatfield said. Tokul has provided eggs for other facilities when they needed them.

“If we don’t meet our goals, we’ll probably just fall short for the year,” he said.

For now, the future of the hatchery appears to be stable.

Hatfield said the governor’s latest budget shows seven hatchery facilities slated for closure. Tokul Creek was not one of those, and the state remains committed to a multi-million-dollar fish ladder project at Tokul Creek site.

While the January flood was extreme, “this is not the first time we’ve had to deal with floods,” Hatfield said.

Each time the facility experiences a flood, the state learns something new.

“You get a lot of experience,” Hatfield said.

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