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Fish Passage

Improving Environmental Performance

Dams can impede the migratory patterns and lifecycles of many fish species. The most recognizable species in the Pacific Northwest is the are salmon. Solving the issue of fish passage at hydropower facilities is a complex challenge requiring expertise in biology, population dynamics, behavior, data analytics, modeling, engineering, and communication. Our team of scientists and engineers is dedicated to maximizing fish survival through informative research, ground-breaking technology development, and collaborative partnerships with industry stakeholders. The influence of our successes are not only felt locally along the Columbia River and across the United States, but internationally as hydropower expands in Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America.


Whooshh Innovations, a Washington state based company, developed the Whooshh Fish Transport System to safely move fish over hydropower dam structures. PNNL researchers have conducted research studies and worked with regulators to investigate potential impacts of the Whooshh system on fish. Specifically, the studies address whether the system introduces injury rates or negative reproductive health issues to adult salmon. PNNL found the Whooshh Fish Transport System comparable to traditional methods used to transport adult salmon. Continued PNNL-Whooshh Innovations studies work to address the regulatory requirements for approval of innovative fish passage technologies.

Point of Contact:

Grant County PUD


In February 2014, a spillway pier fracture was discovered in the Grant County PUD-operated Wanapum Dam near Wenatchee, Washington. This discovery led to lowering the reservoirs behind the dam, installing pumps in the forebay, and implementing modifications to fish ladders. Together, these adaptations had the potential to negatively impact adult fish passage at both Wanapum Dam and Rock Island Dam further upstream. Using PNNL-developed technologies, our researchers tagged and monitored adult spring Chinook salmon as they migrated upstream to Wanapum Dam and beyond to Rock Island Dam. All the tagged fish successfully migrated upstream to Rock Island Dam, demonstrating to management agencies that the upstream passage of fish was not affected by the lowering of the reservoirs behind the dam.

General manager of Public Utility District No. 2 of Grant County, Tony Webb wrote, "Our challenges related to the Wanapum Dam spillway response would have surely been compounded had it not been for the willingness of PNNL to step up and help us in short order." Webb further stated in his letter, "...this experience demonstrates that when we work toward a common goal, we can accomplish positive things in short periods of time."

Point of Contact:

Ice Harbor Dam

Ice Harbor Dam

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Turbine Survival Program (TSP) was developed in 1997 to help improve fish passage survival within the Federal Columbia River Power System on the Lower Snake and Columbia Rivers. A new design approach was developed by the TSP that incorporates USACE turbine modeling expertise with industry standard design processes. This enabled the design and evaluation of new turbine runner alternatives that meet targeted fish passage criteria while maintaining high turbine efficiencies. This new approach has been used to design new turbine runners for the Ice Harbor Dam Powerhouse.

PNNL works closely with USACE to develop design criteria, methods to design and evaluate alternatives for fish passage, and better understand fish behavior approaching the powerhouse and in the tailrace.

Point of Contact:

Water Power Research