Under the Open Sky: Good News, Barrier Dam Inspection Complete

By Kimberly Mason
For The Chronicle
When the City of Tacoma announced the inspection of the Cowlitz River Barrier Dam at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery near Salkum two weeks ago, they warned us that they would lower the river on Tuesday, Sept. 4, to 2,500 cfs and then on Wednesday to 2,000 cfs. They said that the low river flow may continue for as many as seven days.
That announcement threw us Barrier Dam regulars into a speculative tizzy.

But, after two anxious weeks of worry, wondering how the inspection of the dam was going to affect the fishing below the dam, our worries are over.
TPU lowered the river overnight on Sunday. The boaters that woke up to a drop from 3480 to 2460 cfs weren’t happy as they worried over bottoming out their boats on the Labor Day Monday low flows. But bank anglers didn’t seem overly excited about the new lows since it did afford them the opportunity to take a closer look through low, clear water and take note of the changes in the channels beneath the water’s surface.

Checking the Dam
Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle. Wednesday morning at the Barrier Dam on the Cowlitz River, crews completed two days of inspection work on the nearly 50 year old dam. A working platform was set across the north end of the dam, held in place by cables tied to a pair of bulldozers to anchor the wall and divert water flow. Sandbags were also set in front of the platform to further divert the water flow so that Toby Brewer, chief dam safety officer, could get an unobstructed view of the concrete. "We were very pleasantly surprised that the columns and the concrete look to be in really great shape," said Brewer.

Tuesday morning the city of Tacoma crews began setting their equipment in place.
Wednesday morning they completed the diversion of a section of water on the north end of the Barrier Dam.
Using a floating working platform, tied by cables to a pair of bulldozers to anchor it, they lowered the platform to the edge of the dam. The platform was then filled with water to sink it below the water line and block off the flow. Sandbags were placed at the base of the platform to further divert the water flow and open up a couple of sections for a clear visual inspection.
Toby Brewer, chief dam safety engineer, donned a dry suit and safety harness and climbed into a basket held by a crane and was lowered into the water below the cleared area.

Under the Dam
Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle. Wearing a dry suit and safety harness and standing in a crane-held basket, Chief Dam Safety Engineer Toby Brewer lowers an underwater camera attached to a long rod below the water line to inspect the columns and concrete of the Barrier Dam on the Cowlitz River. Crews diverted only a short portion of the water flow across the dam Wednesday morning as a "representative sample of the whole structure," said Brewer. "We didn't see anything that was a concern," said Brewer.

Brewer then used an underwater camera, attached to the end of a long pole, to reach beneath the surface to scan portions of the wall that couldn’t be seen from the basket.
“We were very pleasantly surprised to see that the columns and the concrete look to be in really good shape,” said Brewer.
Only a portion of the dam was inspected, rather than the entire face of the dam, as a representative sample of how the entire structure held up through the years.
“We didn’t see anything that was a concern,” said Brewer.
For those of us that enjoy standing in the Cowlitz River below the dam, it’s good to hear that the 44 year old dam is in good shape. That’s very good news indeed.
By 1 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, the working platform was pulled from the top of the dam and the water flow was back to normal.
The inspection of the dam didn’t seem to alter our chances of catching a nice fall Chinook salmon at the Barrier Dam (which have been and remain poor to slim — except for the Wily Men of the Rock Wall who never seem to stay fishless for long).
See you on the river, may you hook a big ‘un.

About the Hatchery
The Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery began operating in 1968 when Mossyrock Dam was completed. At the time, it was the largest salmon hatchery in the world.
The salmon hatchery produces nearly 13 million fish each year, including about 1.3 million spring Chinook, 5.0 million fall Chinook and 2.4 million coho salmon.
Tacoma Power built and maintains the salmon hatchery and provides funds to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for staffing and operation. Tacoma Power employees use Tacoma Power’s fish trucks to transport fish upstream and allow them to spawn in the upper Cowlitz Basin.
The Barrier Dam sits next to the salmon hatchery. This low dam diverts all upriver migrating adult fish to a fish ladder. The fish ladder leads to a separating station where fish are sorted by species. Some of the fish are retained at the hatchery to produce the next generation of salmon. Tacoma Power transports others to spawning areas in the Tilton, Cispus, and upper Cowlitz Rivers.
The Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery, in conjunction with the Cowlitz Trout Hatchery, supplies fish for the restoration effort in the upper river while continuing to support existing fishery programs downstream.
Source: Tacoma Power website, www.mytpu.org.

Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer and photojournalist. Visit her website at almostdailynews.com, find her on Facebook (Kimberly Mason — The Chronicle), call 269-5017 or email kim@almostdailynews.com.