Nooksack Dam

Open rivers key to orca survival

About the Project

Built in 1961, Nooksack Dam—30 feet high and 150 feet long—provided water for the city of Bellingham, Washington. The concrete dam blocked runs of endangered Puget Sound fish species—Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout. Declining salmon runs on Washington rivers, including the Nooksack, have deprived the at-risk Puget Sound orca pod of its essential food supply.

The Watershed Management Board (for Washington Water Resources Inventory Area #1) ranked removal of the Nooksack Dam as the most important project to recover Chinook salmon, the favored prey species for resident orca, in the North Puget Sound. It is also one of NOAA Fisheries top Chinook salmon restoration projects in the Puget Sound. The project also expands recreational boating and supports cultural and fishing practices for the Nooksack Indian Tribe and Lummi Nation.

Nooksack Dam was removed in the summer of 2020. The City now has a new water supply intake upstream, screened to protect fish and positioned to minimize operations expense as a water source. Removal opened 17 miles of pristine spawning and rearing habitat for the resident fish, which is expected to increase Chinook runs by 30 percent over time providing a significant boost for the orca pod.

Owner: City of Bellingham
Size: 30 feet high, 150 feet long
Project Cost: $17 million
ORF Investment: Design, permitting, and public outreach
Miles Opened: 17 miles
Fish: Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout
Status: Dam removed in summer 2020

  • Open 17 miles of river for prime spawning and rearing habitat
  • Increase salmon runs to secure food sources for the Puget Sound resident orca pod
  • Demonstrate successful infrastructure solutions that deliver community water and wildlife needs
  • Restore traditional cultural practices for the Nooksack and Lummi Tribes
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Project Partners

City of Bellingham

Nooksack Indian Tribe

Lummi Nation

American Rivers

Paul G. Allen Family Foundation

American Whitewater

State of Washington