US Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) officials were hopeful that much needed repairs to the 39m high Keechelus dam in the state of Washington could start sometime in June 2002 despite a lawsuit filed against the project by the Yakama Nation, a native group.

The tribe contends the US$32M project is not a repair project but a major reconstruction of the 85-year-old rock and earth dam 8km southeast of Hyak.

As a reconstruction project, the dam would be subject to federal laws that require the construction of fish-passage facilities. When the dam was completed in 1917, it did not consider fish passage, the tribe claims. The Yakima argue that fish ladders should have been made part of the reconstruction project. USBR has maintained that the project is a repair effort.

Bureau officials decided in January 2002 to replace the upper part of the dam as the preferred option to deal with more than 40 cavities found along its top in June 1998. Since the discovery, the amount of water held back by the dam has been reduced by 11%.

The cavities are suspected to have formed from wooden trestles used in the construction of the dam in 1917. The trestles were covered with earth and rock and left inside the dam. It is suspected that over the years the trestles rotted and internal water movement within the dam caused cavities to form.

Bureau officials in Yakima said Kiewit Construction of Omaha, Nebraska, US, is the contractor for the US$15.3M cavity repair work.