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The two RV Gypsies (plus one) at

Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Seattle, Washington.
July 1, 2015

sign: Hiram M. Chittenden Lock

history bookThe Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, or Ballard Locks, is a complex of locks at the west end of Salmon Bay in Seattle, Washington's Lake Washington Ship Canal, between the neighborhoods of Ballard to the north and Magnolia to the south. The Ballard Locks carry more boat traffic than any other lock in the US. The construction of the locks profoundly reshaped the topography of Seattle and the surrounding area, lowering the water level of Lake Washington and Lake Union by 8 feet, adding miles of new waterfront land, reversing the flow of rivers, and leaving piers in the eastern half of Salmon Bay high and dry.

The locks and associated facilities serve three purposes:

  • To maintain the water level of the fresh water Lake Washington and Lake Union at 20–22 feet above sea level, or more specifically, 20.6 feet above Puget Sound's mean low tide.

  • To prevent the mixing of sea water from Puget Sound with the fresh water of the lakes (saltwater intrusion).

  • To move boats from the water level of the lakes to the water level of Puget Sound, and vice versa

welcome to Hiram M Chittenden sign

Below: Fish led the two RV Gypsies to the Locks and Fish Ladder.

Fish leading the way

Fish leading the way

Lee stopped to look at a miniature garden before entering the Visitor Center.

miniature garden

lock demonstration drawing

Vessels passing from the freshwater Lakes Washington and Union to Puget Sound enter the lock chamber through the open upper gates (A in the accompanying diagram). The lower gates (B) and the draining valve (D) are closed. The vessel is assisted by the lockwall attendants who assure it is tied down and ready for the chamber to be drained.

Next, the upper gates (A) and the filling valve (C) are closed and the draining valve (D) is opened allowing water to drain via gravity out to Puget Sound.

When the water pressure is equal on both sides of the gate, the lower gates (B) are opened, allowing the vessels to leave the lock chamber.

The above process is reversed for upstream locking.

Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

Ballard Locks

Below: One small boat is in the lock and the water is being raised.

small boat in the locks

sign: Indian Fishing Rights

The two RV Gypsies and Ilse walked over the bridge and learned more about the fish and how they travel through this area.

sign: Lines of Defense

Smolt flumes

sign about the lock slides

Smolt flumes

history bookSouth of the small lock is a spillway dam with tainter gates used to regulate the freshwater levels of the ship canal and lakes. The gates on the dam release or store water to maintain the lake within a 2 foot range of 20 to 22 feet above sea level. Maintaining this lake level is necessary for floating bridges, mooring facilities, and vessel clearances under bridges.

"Smolt flumes" in the spillway help young salmon to pass safely downstream. Higher water levels are maintained in the summer to accommodate recreation as well as to allow the lakes to act as a water storage basin in anticipation of drought conditions.

the bridge

the bridge

The two RV Gypsies noticed some seals in the water.

seals in the water

seals in the water

seals in the water

seals in the water

There was also some fish swimming around.

fish swimming

fish swimming

sign: journey of the Pacific Salmon

sign: journey of the Pacific Salmon

sign: journey of the Pacific Salmon

sign: journey of the Pacific Salmon

The two RV Gypsies entered the fish ladder and watched the salmon through windows as they progressed along their route.

sign: Fish Ladder Plaza

viewing fish in the Fish Ladder

The fish ladder at the Chittenden locks is unusual. Normally, fish ladders are located entirely within fresh water. Pacific salmon are anadromous; they hatch in lakes, rivers, and streams, or nowadays fish hatcheries, then migrate to sea, and only at the end of their life return to fresh water to spawn.

history clipart bookWhen the Corps of Engineers first built the locks and dam, they changed the natural drainage route of Lake Washington. The locks and dam blocked all salmon runs out of the Cedar River watershed. To correct this problem, the Corps built a fish ladder as the locks were constructed to allow salmon to pass around the locks and dam. The ladder was designed to use attraction water: fresh water flowing swiftly out the bottom of the fish ladder, in the direction opposite which anadromous fish migrate at the end of their lives. However, the attraction water from this first ladder was not effective. Instead, most salmon used the locks. This made them an easy target for predators; also, many were injured by hitting the walls and gates of the locks, or by hitting boat propellers. The Corps rebuilt the fish ladder in 1976 by increasing the flow of attraction water and adding more weirs. The old fish ladder had only 10 "steps"; the new one has 21. A diffuser well mixes salt water gradually into the last 10 weirs. As a part of the rebuilding, the Corps also added an underground chamber with a viewing gallery.

sign: Fish Ladder Plaza

The fish approaching the ladder smell the attraction water, recognizing the scent of Lake Washington and its tributaries. They enter the ladder, and either jump over each of the 21 weirs or swim though tunnel-like openings. They exit the ladder into the fresh water of Salmon Bay. They continue following the waterway to the lake, river, or stream where they were born. Once there, the females lay eggs, which the males fertilize. Most salmon die shortly after spawning.

The offspring remain in the fresh water until they are ready to migrate to the ocean as smolts. In a few years, the surviving adults return, climb the fish ladder, and reach their spawning ground to continue the life cycle. Of the millions of young fish born, only a relative few survive to adulthood. Causes of death include natural predators, commercial and sport fishing, disease, low stream flows, poor water quality, flooding, and concentrated developments along streams and lakes.

sign when locks were built

Below: At the end of the bridge, some shiny artwork sparkled in the sunlight.

shiny artwork

shiny artwork

the bridge

Ilse Blahak

Crossing back to the locks, everyone watched big and small boats getting settled in, and listened to the employees explain what was happening. The locks can elevate a 760 by 80-foot wide vessels, 26 feet from the level of Pugent Sound to the level of Salom Bay in 10-15 minutes. It accommodates many vessels, from kayaks to large ocean-going ships.

boats in the lock

On the way out, Karen photographed flowers she had not seen before. Unfortunately, there were not any labels to tell her what these were called. If you know what these flowers are, please e-mail the two RV Gypsies through the button at the top of this page (mention what page you are referring to) . Thank you.

a flower

flowers

flowers

The above information is from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia online, and from a brochure acquired at the Visitor Center at the Locks.

go back to the Washington menu Please return to the main menu for the state of Washington to view other areas the two RV Gypsies visited in Washington in 2015, plus a link to their adventures in Canada.