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Dr. Charles Coutant, Coutant Aquatics
NATURAL SOLUTIONS is a Montana-based company that looks to nature for its inspiration -- and for answers -- to problems created by technological progress.
We are a small firm with primary staff members, Gordon Burns, Jean Johnson, and Chuck Coutant as well as fish biologists and hydrologists who serve as consultants.
We began our research and development with consultation from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Geological Service Biological Research Stations, the Bonneville Power Administration, and several public utility districts on testing of NATURAL SOLUTIONS products at Washington State sites.
A 2002 presentation before the Northwest Power Planning Council, which had been looking at proposals for projects that would pipe migrating salmon around dams in the Pacific Northwest, was beneficial in providing guidance and encouragement. "I was impressed," Larry Cassidy, then-Council Chairman, said. In early 2008, NATURAL SOLUTIONS was selected as one of five projects under the Council's Innovative Projects program, which led to Bonneville Power Administration funding for testing the Flow Velocity Enhancement System's ability to attract and guide migrating salmonids that summer. Careful use of the funding grant allowed for a second summer of testing (2009), this time to resume the development of a riverine fish trap, which would allow the trap funnel to remain open despite the natural ebb and flow of currents between two dams on the Cowlitz River in Washington State.
When he was a younger man, Gordon Burns, an amateur naturalist, was fascinated to see how young fish swam toward the current created by an underwater pipe at a Montana gold-mining operation. When he got older, Burns wondered if what he saw in that river couldn't be used to solve a problem that has perplexed people in and around the power industry for decades: How do you get young migrating fish -- known as smolts -- safely around the many dams on the world's rivers? The current solutions, including barging and spills, aren't cheap or particularly effective. Burns felt he had a better answer. And with the help of his partner, Jean Johnson, they created NATURAL SOLUTIONS and developed the Flow Velocity Enhancement System (FVES). The FVES generates significant underwater currents that lure migrating fish into nature-like river bypasses constructed around dams, or to other paths that biologists might want fish to follow. A series of tests -- independently verified -- have shown this does the job. "This is a workable solution that's beneficial to fish while recognizing the importance of power generation," Johnson said.
While setting up for the guidance test funded by BPA in 2008, Burns and Johnson were sometimes confronted with a problem that ended up creating another opportunity. Sometimes wood or weed debris on the water wreaked havoc with efforts to monitor how the FVES system was working with fish movements. But they also noticed that the system, if properly placed, would steer debris away from water-input structures at power plants. This opened a whole new avenue for NATURAL SOLUTIONS.
Burns got his idea for building river channels from his passion - fishing - and his career - building swimming pools. While constructing pools for 40 years, he's become an expert in the use of Gunite, a spray-on solution that creates a bedrock-like surface for pools - or for nature-like river bypasses.
When Burns heard that federal officials were considering barging salmon down the Snake River, he knew there had to be a better solution. He figured he could build a river out of Gunite much cheaper than the feds could barge the migrating salmon. As for attracting the young salmon into his river, he came up with the idea of using the venturi eductor as he watched small fish swim around the intake pipe at the gold-mining operation where an eductor was used.
Burns began to work with Johnson, the former executive director of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, after she hired him to help with a project that required the use of Gunite. They found they had a mutual interest in fish and game issues, and they began brainstorming the complicated salmon migration issue. Fifteen years later, NATURAL SOLUTIONS has a string of successful tests related to smolt and eel guidance and debris management and are looking for a pilot project to prove the FVES can mitigate problems of silt and sediment buildup.