On a sunny, spring day about a year ago, we stopped in at the Oroville Dam and its Feather River Fish Hatchery. Little did we know the peaceful shots we snapped would be such a contrast to the thundering water of the overfilled Oroville Dam in February 2017 that forced the evacuation of more than 180,000 people.
In addition to the evacuation of people, however, was the mandatory evacuation of several million baby fish from the hatchery we had enjoyed. A worthwhile stop for travelers seeking more than tourist traps, the Feather River Fish Hatchery raises Chinook salmon and steelhead – up to 9 million each year in the hatchery approximately one mile below the Oroville Dam, which is the tallest dam in the United States.
Evacuating baby fish from the Feather River Fish Hatchery at Oroville Dam
A secondary story to the evacuation of all those people was the need to evacuate as many baby fish as possible – since either the waters or the sediment could kill them. In the end, a small army of volunteers working through the night scooped up and moved nearly 4 million of those baby fish, with the remainder likely seeing a different fate. The fish raised at the Feather River Fish Hatchery at Oroville Dam are in fact crucial to the state’s salmon stock, particularly as their numbers have declined during the last several years of drought. According to the Chico (California) Enterprise-Record newspaper, the floodwaters that swelled the river had reached above the fish ladder to the parking lot.
This is not the first time the Feather River Fish Hatchery has been under water. In 1997, the waters were also above the fish ladder — as you can see by looking at the red line in the image above. The hatchery returned and will return again after this saga – making it a particularly interesting stop for travelers to the Sierra Nevada foothills heading east from Sacramento.
The Feather River Fish Hatchery has a self-guided tour – best in the fall when the fish ladder opens – that shows the entire spawning process. Guided group tours are available but need to be reserved a month in advance.
Feather River Fish Hatchery a great fall stop for area travelers
Details regarding hours, directions and contact information for the hatchery funded by the California Department of Water Resources and operated by the Department of Fish and Game are available here.
In September, the town of Oroville hosts the annual Salmon Festival with environmental education, music and tours. The 2017 and 2018 event may take special meaning.
The hatchery and Oroville Dam are part of a larger complex supplying power and recreation to a broader Northern California area.