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Stop-gap efforts buy Cole Rivers Hatchery time

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Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCole Rivers hatchery manager David Pease shows what the water piping has produced that feeds into tanks and trays of juvenile fish before replacing it Friday.

TRAIL — Cole Rivers Hatchery technicians are jerry-rigging a new water-delivery system to its hatch house in hopes of avoiding a repeat of last winter’s massive die-off of Rogue River spring chinook salmon eggs from contaminated water.

The string of new plastic water piping is seen as a stop-gap effort while waiting for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to fix the water system and other worn-out elements of the 46-year-old facility on the upper Rogue near Trail.

A December fungal outbreak that killed 1.2 million spring chinook eggs and fry in the hatch house was blamed on old, rusting metal pipes and bacteria in sediment accumulating for years in the piping, cutting into spring chinook production used to make up for wild spring chinook production lost by the building of Lost Creek dam.

Hatchery officials instead are relying on PVC pipes and valves to run treated water to hatch house incubation trays and troughs, side-stepping the old pipes in the process.

“I’m confident that it’s going to work, and we’re not going to lose fish,” hatchery Manager David Pease said.

The work, which cost about $3,500 in materials paid for by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, comes just before Friday, when the first trays of more than 3 million spring chinook eggs will rely on cool, clean hatch-house water to incubate and survive.

“It’s a pretty low-cost fix,” said Ryan Couture, ODFW’s West Region hatchery coordinator. “The ultimate solution is probably hundreds of thousands of dollars to address.”

The hatchery is operated by ODFW and owned by the Corps, which in February completed a hatchery-wide review of the aging facility, including the hatch house’s water system traced to several die-offs over the decades.

Kerry Solan, deputy chief of public affairs for the Corps’ Portland District, said that review concluded that the “symptoms” leading to the die-off were the hatchery’s aged infrastructure and that the Corps wants to do a more comprehensive look at the entire water supply — from its intake on the Rogue tho filtering and delivery to the hatch house.

From the assessment, the agency has created a priority list for engineering and construction of improvements the Corps hopes over the next five to 10 years to “continue work on components of the system and replace what we can,” Solan said in an email.

Solan said she has not seen the priority list and does not know whether the hatch-house water supply was on it.

Couture said the Corps has not shared with the ODFW any report based on the February review, any priority list of projects nor any time line for work at Cole Rivers.

The hatch house has been a regular problem at Cole Rivers, because the incubating eggs need a constant flow of clean water to survive.

Over the years the Corps has cobbled together a series of filters to combat water-borne diseases and other causes of mortality.

In 2016, the Corps did not act on an ODFW request for $500,000 to rebuild the hatch-house water system.

Hatchery returns are key to Rogue angling success because they account for the bulk of the fish anglers keep. Spring chinook are the main product at Cole Rivers, which also raises coho salmon, summer steelhead and winter steelhead to make up for lost wild-fish habitat from the Corps’ building of Lost Creek and Applegate dams.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.