Inside the $5M 'salmon vacuum' on Cougar Reservoir

COUGAR DAM, Ore. - How do you get more baby salmon past Cougar Dam to the McKenzie River and Pacific Ocean beyond?

It's a daunting challenge for fish biologists from the Army Corps of Engineers working at Courgar Reservoir.

"This portable floating fish collector is an experiment," said Scott Clemans with the Army Corps.

A $5 million experiment: dubbed the PFFC for short, this salmon sucker is parked by the big temperature control tower at Cougar Dam.

"PFFC acts as a vacuum," said Andrew Janos with the Army Corps. "It brings water into it."

The water brings baby salmon along for the ride.

"They're swept back safely, down the flume and we collect them into the hopper," said Todd Pierce, a Corps biologist.

The goal: keep more fish alive by collecting them above the dam and trucking them below the dam.

"In order to get more adults to come here and spawn, we have to make sure that more of their offspring are surviving and making it out to sea to grow up in the first place," Clemans said.

If this 2-year experiment works, biologists can think big.

"If we are successful, we would like to see a wild, sustaining run returning to the South Fork McKenzie," Pierce said.