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Seattle City Light DEBRA SMITH, General Manager and CEO
The Nation's Greenest Utility
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Greenest Means

The Skagit River, where three Seattle City Light dams are located, has the highest returns of wild Chinook salmon, steelhead and chum salmon of all Puget Sound rivers. That means inexpensive hydroelectricity for you, and a healthy salmon population for the Skagit.

Here’s what others are saying about how we treat salmon:

Tulalip News: “Tribes, Utility Protect Salmon Eggs

The Fish Site: Salmon Return to Skagit River

Seattle Times: More Power to City Light, Steward of Skagit Salmon

National HydroPower Association 2008 Outstanding Stewards of America’s Waters Award

Need more proof?

Protecting Fish on the Skagit

The Skagit River Project Fisheries Program has five major components: managing flows; acquiring, protecting, and enhancing important fish habitat; research; and monitoring spawning salmon populations.

Managing Flows

The historical spawning grounds for Skagit salmon are located downstream of the dams, below a natural fish migration barrier. However, if flows are not carefully managed the dams can negatively impact salmon by de-watering salmon eggs downstream or by stranding juvenile salmon on gravel bars. Seattle City Light has been regulating river flows from the Skagit Project to protect salmon since 1981.

The flow-management plan that was developed as part of settlement agreements and incorporated into the Skagit Project FERC License mandates a policy requiring Seattle City Light to strive for 100 percent protection of salmon and steelhead spawning nests (redds). Flows through the dams are adjusted on a seasonal, monthly, and daily basis to supply the right amount of water for spawning, incubation and protection of juvenile salmon.
In addition to managing flows, Seattle City Light works closely with the Skagit tribes and state and federal agencies to protect salmon and ensure a healthy economy. Salmon have responded positively to flow management and the cooperative effort on the Skagit River:

  • Since 1985, the upper reaches of Skagit River below the hydroelectric project have seen an eight - fold increase in chum salmon and a four - fold increase in pink salmon. Summer-fall Chinook have responded well, with the proportion of Skagit Chinook using the river below Seattle City Light's hydroelectric project climbing from approximately 60percent to 80percent during the past 25-years.
  • The chum salmon return of 210,000 in 2002 was the largest return on record.
  • The largest pink salmon run on record occurred in 2009, over 1.6 million spawners. Pink salmon populations have rapidly rebounded in the Skagit following a record flood event in 2003, with the majority of fish spawning in the 25-mile reach below Seattle City Light's hydroelectric project.
  • Strong returns of Chinook salmon. The return of 25,000 Chinook to the Skagit basin in 2004 represents a landmark event, the largest run in 25 years. Chinook runs in the Skagit also exceeded 20,000 spawners in 2005 and 2006. The number of Chinook salmon in the upper Skagit reached the Endangered Species Act recovery goal of 17,000 spawners during this period, and was the only population in the Puget Sound to achieve this goal.
  • The 25-mile reach of the Skagit River below Seattle City Light's hydroelectric project is now the most important spawning reach in the region, with nearly half of remaining naturally-produced Chinook salmon in the Puget Sound spawning here.

Skagit Chinook Spawning Escapement 1974-2010

Pink and Chum Salmon Spawner Abundance, Upper Skagit River

Skagit River Flows

Skagit River flows levels vary due to flow regulation at the Skagit Hydroelectric Project as well as from unregulated tributaries such as the Sauk and Cascade rivers.

Skagit Watershed

For the latest flows, please check the Skagit River Current Conditions.

Want more information on Skagit River flows and salmon? Check out the following:

Habitat Acquisition, Protection, and Enhancement

Over $2 million (in 1990$; $3.6 million in 2012) of funding was allocated for fisheries habitat acquisition, protection, and restoration under the Settlement Agreement for the Skagit Project license. Since that time Seattle City Light has spent nearly $1.6 million to acquire and/or restore select areas of riparian and off-channel habitat. Restoration activities have included:

  • culvert removal to restore use of tributary streams by spawning salmon,
  • reconnecting side channels that had been cut off from the river,
  • planting riparian vegetation in areas disturbed by grazing or agriculture to reduce sedimentation, and
  • recreating off-channel habitats that had been lost.
Completed Habitat Acquisition and Restoration Projects
Project Type Aquatic Habitat Area (sq ft) Location (RM)
Newhalem Ponds New channel construction 81,000 90.2
County Line Ponds New channel construction 22, 000 89
County Line Ponds Expansion Added a pond 730 89
Taylor Channel New off-channel construction 5,694 79.4
Powerline Channel New off-channel construction    
Illabot Channel New off-channel construction    
Johnson Slough Off-channel habitat acquisition and restoration 7,466 67.7
Bacon Creek Rip-Rap Removal Off-channel habitat restoration and floodplain re-connection 792,792 83
O'Brian Creek Culvert Replacement Bridge installed to replace undersized culvert 100,000 73
Bacon Creek Road Replacement Rip-rap removal and road replacement 24,000 82
Ross Island Slough Acquisition Acquisition and restoration of off-channel habitat 25,000 30
Savage Slough Acquisition Acquisition and riparian habitat restoration    
Finney Creek Road Restoration      

Fisheries Research

Seattle City Light has been a leader and key partner in groundbreaking research projects on fish species in the Skagit Watershed. Under the Settlement Agreement, over $4 million was allocated for fisheries research and more is known about salmonid populations and ecology in the Skagit River basin than in any other drainage to Puget Sound. Most of the research has been conducted under partnership and funding agreements with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, Skagit River System Cooperative (SRSC), and University of Washington. Major research projects include:

Freshwater Habitat Rearing Preferences for Juvenile Chinook Salmon, Steelhead, and Bull Trout in the Skagit River Basin

This study examines seasonal freshwater habitat preferences and spatial distribution of yearling Chinook salmon, juvenile bull trout, and yearling and older juvenile steelhead. For each of the three species, this study determined the following: (1) seasonal habitat use; (2) seasonal location of fish within the basin; and (3) habitats types by location within the basin. The results of this research study will be used to guide habitat protection and restoration actions throughout the basin to improve the spatial distribution and life-history diversity of the yearling form of these listed species.

Chinook Salmon Life History Study

  • This study fits into a larger applied research framework by providing specific juvenile life history data to a habitat-based salmon production model. The Skagit Chinook Salmon Life History Study had four main objectives:
  • Identify juvenile life history types of wild Skagit ocean type Chinook salmon.
  • Estimate the Skagit's distribution of juvenile life history types by brood year and understand the causes of annual variation (e.g. , impacts by varying population size and environmental conditions).
  • Estimate marine survival by juvenile life history type (requires analysis of at least one brood year of adult Chinook salmon otoliths).
  • Estimate annual variation in marine survival by juvenile life history type and understand the causes of annual variation (requires longer term analysis of adult otoliths).
  • Taken as a whole, this body of work provided extensive data on the life history characteristics of Chinook salmon populations during their freshwater rearing phases and population response to variation in stream discharge, restoration, and land use management

Skagit River Downstream Migrant Chinook Salmon Evaluation.

This 10year study assessed natural origin downstream migrant Chinook salmon production. Chinook salmon outmigration total varied greatly from one to five million natural-origin sub-yearlings annually. Egg-to-migrant survival also varied greatly from 2-17 percent. Natural origin coho smolts, chum fry, pink fry, steelhead smolts, Dolly Varden trout/bull trout smolts catches were recorded. Egg-to-migrant survival was inversely related to flow level during vulnerable egg incubation periods each fall and winter.

Inventory of Natural and Constructed Off-Channel Habitat in the Upper Skagit River Basin.

This inventory of natural and constructed off-channel habitat in the upper Skagit River basin was conducted in 2004 to assess the loss of off-channel habitat attributed to the hydroelectric project and to establish the need for additional off-channel habitat within the affected reach. The study found that the density of natural off-channel habitat in the Upper Skagit Reach (normalized by effective floodplain area) is lower than the habitat density in unregulated river reaches. The study also determined that when constructed habitat is factored into the analysis of off-channel habitat density, the upper Skagit Reach is comparable to other unregulated river reaches. In addition, the off-channel habitat inventory documented hydro-modified reaches that restrict available floodplain area, further limiting the formation of new off channel habitat.

Fish Population Monitoring

Seattle City Light monitors the salmon that spawn in the upper Skagit River annually in cooperation with the Skagit River System Cooperative. Monitoring results are provided to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to estimate escapement and are also used by Seattle City Light to manage flow releases from the Skagit Project to protect redds and juvenile salmon. Spawning timing is as follows:

Chinook: August 20 - October 15, each year (flows < 4,500 cfs)
Pink: September 12 - October 31, odd years (flows <4,000 cfs)
Chum: November 16 - January 6 each year (<4,600 cfs)
Steelhead: March 15 - June 15 (<5,000/<4,000 cfs)

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