Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, Seattle Washington

The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

The locks are a series of locks that sit at the west end of Salmon Bay. Being a part of Seattle’s Lake Washington Ship Canal, they are known locally as the Ballard Locks.

Built with three main purposes in mind, to maintain the fresh water in Lake Washington and Lake Union at 22 feet above sea level, to prevent the mixing of sea water from Puget Sound with the freshwater of the  lakes,and to move boats between Puget Sound and the fresh water lakes.

Included in the complex are two sets of locks, a large lock which is over 800 feet long and a smaller lock which is used in times of light traffic to conserve fresh water. The tow locks also enables maintenance work to be done on one lock while still providing service with the 2nd lock.

The locks can elevate a 760-foot by 80-foot  wide vessel 26 feet , from the level of Puget Sound at a very low tide to the level of freshwater Salmon Bay, in 10–15 minutes . The locks handle both pleasure boats and commercial vessels, ranging from kayaks to fishing boats returning from the Bering Sea to cargo ships. Over 1 million tons of cargo, fuel, building materials, and seafood products pass through the locks each year.


Vessels passing from the freshwater lakes (Lakes Washington and Union) to Puget Sound enter the lock chamber through the open upper gates . The lower gates  and the draining valve are closed. The vessel is assisted by the lock wall attendants who assure it is tied down and ready for the chamber to be drained.

Next, the upper gates and the filling valve  are closed and the draining valve  is opened allowing water to drain via gravity out to Puget Sound.

When the water pressure is equal on both sides of the gate, the lower gates  are opened, allowing the vessels to leave the lock chamber.

The process is reversed for upstream locking.

Another feature of the lock system are the fish ladders, installed adjacent to the locks.Salmon live most of their lives  in the ocean, however they must return to the fresh water lakes before dying to lay their eggs  The fish ladders provide a way for salmon to return, lay their eggs and return to the sea and pass on to salmon heaven. The fish ladders consist of a series of elevated levels which closely resemble rapids in a natural environment. The salmon can thus jump these series of “rapids” and thereby return to their lake front home, thus enabling them to pass on their heritage.


Gary has been a writer/ photographer for over 20 years, specializing in nature,landscapes and studying native cultures.Besides visiting most of the United States, he has traveled to such places as Egypt,the Canary Islands,much of the Caribbean. He has studied  the Mayan Cultures in Central America, and the Australian Aboriginal way of life.Photography has given him the opportunity to observe life in many different parts of the world!

He has published several books about the various cultures he has observed.

For more information and a link to his hard cover and Ebooks,and contact information: please check his website.www.commonsensejourneys.com

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