Without any significant rain in weeks, rivers are running low and water temperatures are rising.
It’s creating big problems for salmon and other fish that are finding themselves high and dry in disappearing streams.
“Very soon we will have adult salmon begin to return to streams,” Washington Fish and Wildlife Department spokeswoman Teresa Scott said. “We’re worried about whether they’re not going to be able to get into their streams, whether there will be any place for them to spawn.”
Juvenile salmon are already in the streams and will be in those waters through the summer and fall. They will be confronted with more shallow, rocky areas with few deep, cool pools to swim in.
“It’s not good for fish to have really warm water to be living in,” Scott said. “There’s reduced oxygen in warm water, and so when fish don’t get enough oxygen, that’s not a good thing.”
The state is taking extreme measures to save the fish, such as physically rescuing any that might get stranded out of main channels, sandbagging streams to force the water to flow deeper, and even trucking returning salmon and steelhead into hatcheries where they can better control conditions.
Anglers will also be feeling the burn. The state limited fishing hours on the popular Sol Duc River on the Olympic Peninsula. Fishing for Chinook has been closed altogether on the Grande Ronde River, and more closures are expected to come as water levels drop.
The problem is so dire, Scott said she’s even having to ask hikers not to build foot bridges that block streams, and families with children playing by rivers not to make dams because even that small impediment could prevent fish from getting upstream.
These are the worst river conditions Scott has seen in her lifetime.
“It could be next year through five years from now that we will have runs that just don’t show up, or show up in very low numbers, and that’s when we will be seeing the effects of this drought,” she said.