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Power failure damages hatchery output

TRAIL — Another year of Rogue River salmon and steelhead production at Cole Rivers Hatchery may come up short while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues work to fix the hatchery’s main power source.

Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch Cole Rivers Hatchery manager David Pease works in the hatch house.

Since the hatchery’s 50-year-old main electrical line failed in April, the regular growth cycle for salmon and steelhead destined for the Rogue and Applegate rivers has been slower than scheduled, threatening survival rates of young fish reared there this year, authorities said.

While emergency generators have run the main hatchery, they are unable to power the facility’s hatch house during crucial stages in young salmon’s development.

The electrical shortfall has harmed the hatchery’s ability to warm hatch-house water, slowing salmon growth rates and altering when ocean-bound salmon and steelhead smolts can be released into the Rogue.

For instance, about 2 million young spring chinook fry spawned last fall should have been out of the hatch house by Jan.1, but they were too small remain inside, hatchery Manager David Pease said.

Pease said he hopes to have them in outside ponds next week.

Similar delays have, and will, occur with infant steelhead, and it also alters the schedule of when newly spawned eggs can take their place in the hatch house, Pease said.

“It’s going to effect everything,” he said.

Smaller salmon and steelhead smolts headed to sea have lower survival rates, but there was no estimate on future survival impacts from the lack of electrically warmed water in this case.

Any losses will be felt mainly by anglers during the 2025-26 adult returns to the Rogue, where they are prized by anglers and fuel a multimillion dollar sport fishery from Gold Beach to the hatchery’s entrance 157 miles from the sea.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists are working on contingency plans to minimize those impacts and improve survival rates.

Dan VanDyke, ODFW’s Rogue District fish biologist, said possibilities include later release dates into the Rogue to let those smolts grow and releasing more smolts in the lower Rogue bay instead of the hatchery to spare them mortality on their downstream migration.

The hatchery has been running on emergency power during various repair efforts on the buried line that runs nearly a mile from Lost Creek dam generators to the hatchery.

Attempts to repair the line have failed, Corps spokesman Tom Conning said.

The agency also attempted to tap into Pacific Power, but a need for a new generator and electrical panel stalled progress, Conning said.

“We decided that wasn’t going to be a viable option,” Conning said.

The Corps opted for a full powerline replacement, but no timeline or cost has been determined, though the agency has started an emergency-funding request up the Corps’ funding pipeline, Conning said.

The Corps built and owns the hatchery, while ODFW operates it under an agreement between the two agencies. The hatchery has operated since 1974 to mitigate for wild salmon and steelhead lost by the construction of Lost Creek and Applegate dams, as well as the since-removed Elk Creek Dam.

Along with the spring chinook, the facility’s target annual releases include 192,000 winter steelhead smolts and 220,000 summer steelhead smolts for the Rogue, and 175,000 winter steelhead smolts for the Applegate.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com.