Better protections proposed for salmon spawning and habitat


Press release from the Department of Ecology – October 19, 2021


Salmon need fresh, clean water to survive. This includes sufficient oxygen and a healthy habitat. To meet both of these needs and support the recovery of salmon in the state, the Department of Ecology is proposing to revise the state’s water quality standards.

By updating the regulatory framework for water quality, known as standards, the agency can better protect water quality and the physical habitat of all salmonids, including salmon, rainbow trout, trout, char and whitefish.

Specifically, Ecology is proposing changes to ensure that salmonid nests (called nests) have enough oxygen to support incubating eggs and newly hatched young. Ecology is also seeking to better protect these nests from the negative effects of excess fine sediment in stream beds, which can smother salmon in their early stages of life.

“We need regulatory changes to support the investments tribal, state and local governments are making to restore Washington’s iconic salmon runs. Ensuring that the salmon have sufficient oxygen and healthy spawning grounds is crucial for salmon recovery.

Vince McGowan, Ecology Water Quality Program Manager.

Address fine sediments

Fine sediment on salmon spawning gravel can block the flow of water through the gravel, depriving eggs and larvae of the oxygen they need for proper growth and development.

Fine sediment is often the result of soil erosion, which can occur for many reasons, including development and construction, agricultural practices, and forestry. There are best practices for these industries and activities to mitigate pollution and sediment erosion.

Currently, state standards do not directly address fine sediment. Ecology proposes to clarify what it means to protect fine sediments, which will allow better implementation of state standards.

Maintain healthy oxygen levels

This effort will improve the way ecology assesses water conditions for the benefit of all salmonids and other aquatic life in freshwater. Knowing the root cause of water quality problems helps Ecology and its partners develop appropriate solutions. To ensure a good level of oxygen in the water, Ecology offers:

  • Increase the amount of oxygen required in the water to better protect the early life stages of salmonids in gravel beds.
  • Add a dissolved oxygen requirement to the gravel beds of rivers and streams to provide a direct means of ensuring that salmonid eggs and young have sufficient oxygen.
  • Add a dissolved oxygen saturation requirement, which reflects the amount of oxygen the water can hold at a given temperature and pressure. This will help determine the cause of the low dissolved oxygen level, which is most often caused by high water temperature and excess nutrients.

Provide feedback

Please provide comments on the draft regulatory text, including the preliminary technical assistance document, the preliminary implementation plan and the preliminary regulatory analyzes by December 16, 2021. Public hearings will take place on 8 and 9 December.

All draft documents, information on public hearings, and instructions on how to comment can be found on Ecology’s rule-making web page.

This rule-making process began in late 2019, with Ecology convening a scientific advisory committee to discuss the science supporting proposed rule changes. Learn more about the science behind these changes in a 2019 blog post from the department.


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