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IIHR Awarded Contract for Fish Passage Research

Posted on May 7th, 2010
A record number of sockeye salmon passed through the Priest Rapids Project in 2010.

A record number of sockeye salmon passed through the Priest Rapids Project in 2010.

IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering (IIHR), a part of the University of Iowa College of Engineering, recently received a new five-year, $15 million contract from Public Utility District No. 2 of Grant County (Grant Co. PUD), in the state of Washington.

Over the next five years, IIHR will provide hydraulic modeling and analysis for Grant Co. PUD to improve the design of fish passage structures for its hydroelectric dams, including Priest Rapids and Wanapum Dams on the Columbia River.

Despite the apparent novelty of a major Midwestern research university studying rivers in the Pacific Northwest, UI researchers have a long and well-respected history of such research.

IIHR’s fish passage research dates back to the 1930s when the institute conducted tests of fish ladders for rivers and streams in the Midwest.

IIHR began investigating salmon-diversion structures for large hydroelectric dams in the Pacific Northwest in 1983. Since then, IIHR has been a close collaborator with Grant Co. PUD, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and other major hydroelectric utilities to increase the survival of anadromous fish passing hydropower dams in the Pacific Northwest, especially on the Snake and Columbia Rivers.

The problem involves trying to reduce the number of salmon that fall prey to the harsh environment within the hydroelectric turbines or to the high levels of nitrogen absorbed by the river as water mixes with air after passing through the spillway gates.

IIHR’s researchers and technicians have constructed several large-scale laboratory models over the years, including Wanapum, Priest Rapids, Rock Island, Brownlee, and Hells Canyon Dams, to laboratory-test a variety of proposed fish-passage structures prior to their construction. The laboratory models complement IIHR’s advanced capabilities in computational fluid dynamics (computer simulations) to simulate hydraulic performance of proposed or existing fish passage facilities.

In recent years, the Numerical Fish Surrogate, a specialized computer simulation tool developed in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has allowed IIHR researchers to model and predict fish response to passage structures with increasing accuracy.

Since 1983, IIHR’s fish passage program has generated more than $40 million in funding for IIHR research and has led to the construction of better-designed structures and decreased fish mortality.

“This new contract with Grant County PUD represents an exciting continuation of an institute-wide initiative,” said Professor Larry Weber, IIHR director and the lead investigator for IIHR’s fish passage program. “It has been especially gratifying when we follow a proposed fish passage structure from conception through testing and construction. We get to observe firsthand how our research improves salmon survival rates around large hydroelectric dams that provide an important source of renewable energy in the Northwest.”

The new contract will allow IIHR to continue developing fish passage facilities and improve downstream fish survival for Grant Co. PUD. It will also support several IIHR researchers and many graduate students in the coming years.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Center One, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Larry Weber, lead investigator, 319-335-5597; Gary Galluzzo, writer, 319-384-0009.

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