Trout fishermen are rejoicing and one organization is claiming a “whopping victory” after a recent ruling by the California State Water Board that stipulates minimum water flows aimed at protecting the famed East Walker River from further fish kills.
The ruling comes on the heels of the Board’s decision earlier this year to require Nevada’s Walker River Irrigation District--which diverts water from California’s Bridgeport Reservoir to Nevada farmers and ranchers via the East Walker--to maintain sufficient water flows “at all times” to protect the valued fishery.
The action was brought before the Board by California Trout Inc., a private trout-advocacy group, after the massive fish kill that ensued in 1988 during and after the district’s draining of Bridgeport Reservoir, which left the shores of the East Walker littered with dead fish.
The East Walker flows for about seven miles from Bridgeport Reservoir before entering Nevada. The first mile is known for producing trophy brown trout and is extremely popular among fly-fishermen. It is also very susceptible to heavy silting because of irregular stream flows.
Under the ruling, the irrigation district must release no less than 20 cubic feet a second during non-irrigation months and maintain a minimum pool of 2,000 acre-feet in the reservoir during normal years, 600 acre-feet in dry years. An acre-foot is the quantity of water required to cover an acre with one foot of water.
The California Department of Fish and Game is calling the ruling a step in the right direction, but would have preferred stricter flow guidelines that it says would have better served the fisherman.
“A real victory for us would have been more water and a much higher minimum pool,” said Darrell Wong, a DFG biologist based in Bishop. Wong said that keeping the 600-acre-foot minimum pool for another year--assuming this is another “dry” year--would have somewhat of a negative impact on the fishery.
“The purpose of that fishery is recreational angling,” Wong said. “At those kinds of low reservoir levels, the turbidity in the river becomes so high. When you get turbidity that high in that stream it essentially is unfishable. A real victory for us would have been more water and a much higher flow.”
Wong did say, though, that the ruling will preclude a repeat of 1988, when the fishery was virtually wiped out, and that it sets a precedent that could lead to other actions where similar circumstances apply. He added that the East Walker has been re-stocked and appears to be recovering.
Said Richard May, president of CalTrout: “This is a very big deal for trout folks. It means the water bureaucracy is in the stream protection business, right where it ought to be.”