Bonneville Dam at Cascade Locks, Oregon
Built in the 1930s by the Army Corps of Engineers, The Bonneville Dam stretches the width of the Columbia River 40 miles upstream from Portland, and the two powerhouses generate over 1.2 million kilowatts, seeing to the power needs of some 500,000 homes. The water passing through one powerhouse alone is enough to fill an average three-bedroom home to the brim in one second, still leaving enough left over for 1.6 million cubic feet of water to travel over the spillway each second. The Columbia River is big.
In a case like this, a fish may not need a bicycle, but it could sure could use a ladder.
A fish ladder – designed to allow spawning fish to move upstream past the otherwise too-steep spillway – sits between the spillway and the second powerhouse. Visitors can watch the fish – steelhead trout, shad, and chinook, coho, and sockeye salmon – as they make their way upstream along the concrete maze.
Inside the visitor center on a lower level, a giant window offers an erie view as shadowy fish come forward and fade away in the bright blue-green haze of an underwater vista, while lamprey eels (actually a jawless fish – but really? What’s that, anyway?) suction cup themselves by the mouth to the glass as their tail ends sway like some sort of alien aquatic grass. Weird and wonderful indeed.
I don’t know where I go.
I face my lake and float
backward into my future.
Trembling on the edge of what I can’t yet see,
I go with water’s flow and trust
strange rapture singing in my blood,
ride the river like a knife’s edge.
– excerpt from Smolte/The Salmon Suite, by Judith Roche
Bonneville Fish Hatchery – Home of Herman the Sturgeon
The Army Corps of Engineers evidently does nothing by halves. Bonneville Dam, with its spillway, two powerhouses, and a lock, also maintains a fish hatchery, so after taking in our fill of the fish ladders (and a peek at a raptor nest atop the powerhouse structure, too), we headed off to see Herman the Sturgeon.
I had always thought that the fish in our lakes and streams had grown up there, a product of nature at its watery best – fish doing what fish do in the place they had always done it. No such case, though; I had underestimated human’s potential to strip its resources clean, and its ingenuity in attempting to stop this inevitable end with animal husbandry. So it is that the Bonneville fish hatchery was built in 1909 and today raises and releases 275,000 steelhead trout, 1.2 million coho salmon, and 8.5 million chinook salmon.
The hatchery is also home to an Oregon celebrity, Herman the Sturgeon. Weighing it at almost 500lbs and measuring over 10ft long, this stately septuagenarian gentleman spent almost 50 summers at the state fair before retiring for a life of ease at the hatchery. He now shares a tank with eight sturgeon buddies (mere younglings measuring 8 feet and under) to keep him company as he ushers in, with all good luck, another couple of decades.
May the fishy force be with you, Herman.