Friday, November 2, 2012

Reservoir release could harm fishery

Land Trust claims canal company waited too long to release water

Express Staff Writer

The calm waters in the Big Wood River below Magic Reservoir, shown here, were disrupted Monday when the Big Wood Canal Co. began releasing large amounts of water from the reservoir. The Wood River Land Trust claims the sudden release will be devastating to the popular fishery below the dam. Courtesy photo by Wood River Land Trust

Anglers attempting to fish the popular waters of the Big Wood River canyon below Magic Reservoir this week were likely confronted with an unpleasant surprise. Instead of a peaceful, calm river, they were confronted with unseasonal high waters.

“It’s going to be a change from the calm waters fisherman have been experiencing down there,” said Doug Megargle, regional fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “It’s going to be unfishable. It’s going to be unsafe. I certainly wouldn’t recommend fishing down there.”

River conditions changed rapidly Monday when the Big Wood Canal Co., which owns irrigation water stored in the reservoir, began releasing water from the dam so repairs could be made at the hydroelectric plant.

Megargle said Wednesday that the release started slowly but “flows are going to be considerably higher.”

“There’s going to be a lot of water coming out quickly,” he said, explaining that the canal company intends to reduce the reservoir level by about a third within about 10 days.

Scott Boettger, executive director of the Wood River Land Trust, which has been working with the canal company to maintain stream flows below the reservoir, said the sudden release of water will have a drastic effect on what has become a popular and “phenomenal” fishery for rainbow and brown trout.

“Absolutely a flow of 1,500 cfs, or whatever they’re anticipating, will be devastating to that very fragile and upcoming fishery,” Boettger said.

The precise cfs, an acronym for cubic feet per second, being released was not available from the canal company. Staff at the company office in Shoshone confirmed that the water release was started Monday but referred all other questions to company legal counsel, Gooding attorney Craig D. Hobdey, who did not return a telephone call to the Idaho Mountain Express by press deadline Thursday.

Boettger said the canal company had known for about a year that a reservoir draw-down was necessary for repairs at the hydroelectric plant but delayed releasing water until forced to do so by a lawsuit filed Oct. 23 by plant owner Magic Reservoir Hydroelectric.

“Now they’re in a situation where they rushing it to get it down as fast as they can in what I feel is a detriment to the fishery down there,” Boettger said. “It’s just a tragedy. It’s just a shame.”

The Big Wood River runs about three miles below the reservoir before it reaches a smaller diversion dam used to divert water into the Richfield Canal. The Big Wood Canal Co. announced Monday that it would use both the Richfield Canal and the historic Big Wood River channel below the diversion dam to carry water away.

“It’s the water below the diversion dam that I’m concerned about, washing those fish out of that system where they’ll be washed downstream and stranded downstream and where they’ll die downstream,” Boettger said.

The Big Wood River below Magic Reservoir typically has some water flowing through it, fed by dam seepage, springs below the dam and periodic releases from the reservoir. However, below the diversion dam the historic river channel is typically allowed to dry completely during late fall and winter months. Last year, Wood River Land Trust arranged with the canal company to release enough water from the dam to keep a water flow through the area below the dam and into the Richfield Canal.

However, Boettger said that since then, the canal company’s attitude has changed.

“Now they’ve changed their minds and they’re back to their old stand of controlling everything,” he said.

Megargle noted that Fish and Game has no control over river flows and that the amount of water released below the reservoir is up to the canal company.

He said the short-term effects from the sudden release of water while not be beneficial to the fishery, but he expects it to recover in the long-term.

“There’s a lot of big holes down there,” he said. “Some of the smaller fish will probably be washed away, but for the most part the big fish can just hunker down and weather it out.”

Terry Smith:

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