Beale AFB drains lake to help fish migration |

Beale AFB drains lake to help fish migration

Jake Abbott
Special to The Union

The U.S. Air Force, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are collaborating on a project at Beale Air Force Base to benefit endangered fish passage by removing a dam on base.

The dam was built in 1942 when the site was Camp Beale and owned by the U.S. Army. The plan is to remove the structure at Beale Lake by next year, which in turn could help fall-run Chinook salmon and endangered steelhead migrate further up Dry Creek to spawning and rearing habitat. The work is part of the Sikes Act, enacted in 1960, which has seen over 300 military installations work alongside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to promote conservation.

“We are really excited about this project because we’ve wanted to do it for quite a while and it’s a long-term project,” said Tamara Gallentine, natural and cultural resources program manager for the 9th Civil Engineer Squadron, in a press release. “It’s a benefit to endangered species, and this is our main goal under the Sikes Act, so we’ve partnered with the FWS.”

Starting in early July, project coordinators began draining Beale Lake to observe the streamflow and sample the lake’s sediment in order to better understand how to support salmon and steelhead migrations and to see if any other changes were needed after the dam has been removed.

The lake was drawn down over several days by opening up the dam’s gates. As the water level decreased, biologists began plotting GPS coordinates where sediment samples were taken to be researched. The work also required them to rescue stranded wildlife, including fish and turtles.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist Mark Gard said the project provides a great opportunity to improve fish passage on the base.

“There are three main things we are looking at: the volume of sediment; any contaminants in the sediment, like mercury; and the cultural resources within the inundation area of the lake,” Gard said. “We look forward to receiving the results of our tests and planning the next steps on this major habitat restoration project with Beale Air Force Base.”

Once project coordinators remove the dam and the current fish ladder, the hope is that the lake will return to a fully functioning river, which will improve the habitat allowing fish to return to the creek upstream.

Other improvements planned for the project include removing an upstream migration barrier, adding rocks in the upper portion of the lake to allow fish to pass the waterfall, and adding gravel to Dry Creek upstream of the lake for spawning habitat. The project is expected to be carried out by 2020.

Jake Abbott is a reporter for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat. Contact him at

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