COUGAR — The four cables connected to anchors were cut, the tug’s engine roared, and PacifiCorp’s $63 million, 3-million-pound floating fish collector began its once-in-a-lifetime journey down Swift Reservoir to the dam Friday.
“It’s not every day you move something this big,” said Tom Gauntt, a PacifiCorp spokesman.
Indeed it’s not.
The facility is half the size of a football field. It’s 170 feet long, 60 feet wide and 53 feet tall.
Pushed by what seemed like a tiny tug for such a hulking structure, the fish collector made the approximately 10-mile trip from its construction site at Swift Forest Camp to the dam in less than four hours.
The move had all the excitement of watching paint dry, but Swift’s floating fish collector — the second of its kind in the world — is at the center of reopening 117 miles of historic salmon and steelhead habitat in the upper North Fork of the Lewis River.
As part of their 50-year federal license to operate the three dams on the North Fork of the Lewis, PacifiCorp and Cowlitz PUD are required to re-establish salmon and steelhead in the upper watershed.
Adult winter steelhead, coho and spring chinook will be captured at Merwin Dam and trucked upstream of Swift Dam for release.
Frank Shrier, a PacifiCorp scientist, said the goal is to release 1,500 winter steelhead, 9,000 coho and 2,000 adult spring chinook annually.
The young produced by those adults will be collected at the new floating structure at Swift Dam and transported to the lower Lewis.
The collector can pump 600 cubic feet per second of attraction flow for the young fish. That’s enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in 2 minutes.
By comparison, the East Fork of the Lewis River was flowing at 244 cubic feet per second on Friday.
“Both the current and the noise will seem like a waterfall and fool them” into entering the collector, said Shrier.
The collector will be operational by December. Most of its work will be in March through June, when young salmon and steelhead head downstream to the ocean.
Shrier said he is confident about the reintroduction of steelhead and coho.
“Coho and steelhead will find their way,” he said. “Spring chinook are the ones that are going to need the most help establishing.”