Nimbus Fish Hatchery

I know that it has been a long time since my last blog post, but I had a very good reason! Folsom Historical Society is now reopened, Friday through Sunday from 11:00AM to 4:00PM and our latest exhibit Whodunit? A Look at Local True Crime is now open for viewing.

Moving away from true crime now, I want to talk about the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. I am sure many of you have heard of it or maybe attended a field trip there years ago but if you have ever wondered about how it started, stick around because this blog is for you.

Nimbus Dam during construction

With Nimbus Dam nearing completion, the state and federal governments had to solve the issue of how salmon would continue to make their run through the American River for reproduction. By law, an entity building a dam that disturbs a fish run is responsible for ensuring that group of fish is still able to migrate one way or another. As the Federal Bureau of Reclamation built the dam, they were responsible for a solution.

Nimbus Dam and hatchery

Fish Ladder

At the end of 1953, a site right below the dam was chosen to be the hatchery in order to keep an estimated 18,000 King salmon and 3,000 steelheads from hitting up against the Nimbus Dam to continue their route. It was originally planned to be 40-50 acres with four buildings with the Federal government paying salaries for employees who would divert the fish from the river into the hatchery via “ladder” with riffles. Once up the ladder, the fish are killed and then harvested. Salmon die shortly after spawning so their quick deaths at the hatchery are considered humane.

Salmon Harvest

Hatchery worker with salmon

In April of 1954, the hatchery was approved for expedient funding and construction began. The Department of Fish and Game was placed in charge of operating the dam and in 1955, the estimated cost of running the hatchery was placed at 87,000 a year. When the hatchery opened in late October of 1955, it was announced that the entire project had cost $900,000 to build and would be open for visitors to inspect the work being done. Many Folsom residents were curious about the work being done, so much so that the hatchery had to limit how many guests came in as to not overwhelm the space and work being done.

Group viewing the ladder

Group by the feeding area

On December 3rd, 1955, the hatchery was formally dedicated and by this point thousands of fish had already made their way through the ladder into the hatchery. The following month, a flood hit the newly opened hatchery, causing damage to the ladder and facilities which slowed down how many fish they were able to take in. By April of 1956, over 3 million fingerlings (juvenile fish) had been released back into the American River despite damage from the flood and while less than what they had hoped for, was still considered a success.

Nursery pond at the hatchery

Today, the hatchery still continues their work to make sure the American River stays stocked and healthy, and their visitor center hosts tours and educational programs.

Old tour map from the hatchery