Scientists estimate 200,000 chinook are spawning in the Reach.

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SPOKANE — The number of fall chinook salmon returning to the Hanford Reach section of the Columbia River this year is the most since dams were constructed in the 1930s, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) said this week.

Scientists estimate 200,000 chinook are spawning in the Reach, which is the last free-flowing section of the Columbia in the United States. The Hanford Reach flows past the giant Hanford nuclear reservation, where the government for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons.

About 50,000 of the fall chinook are spawning in a one-mile section of the Reach called Vernita Bar, the BPA said. Historically only a small number of salmon spawned at Vernita Bar because that stretch of the river was too shallow, the BPA said. But special efforts have been made to keep salmon spawning grounds submerged there, the BPA said.

The BPA also said this year’s fall chinook run on the greater Columbia and Snake river system is the second-best since counting began in 1938. The BPA says about 1.2 million fish have returned to the rivers and their tributaries to spawn.

A series of dams built from the 1930s to the 1960s decimated some of the nation’s largest salmon runs on the Columbia-Snake river system. The federal government has spent billions of dollars over the decades to restore salmon runs, some of which are listed as endangered.

Utilities and the BPA have worked to balance the needs of salmon with power production, flood control and other river uses, the BPA said.

“The result has been a significant increase in fish survival and much larger numbers of spawning salmon,” the BPA, which markets power from federal dams, said in a news release.