by Martin Strelneck
Back in April there was a high level of anxiety on the Eastern Sierra fishing scene, with a lot of hand wringing based on concerns regarding the high price of fuel and would result the high country resembling a ghost town.
Gasoline and diesel topped $5 a gallon for a short period, but the fishermen still came. Just about all the tackle stores and landings I’ve spoken with noted a some decrease in activity, but considering the overall economy, nobody had any major complaints. Like one tackle store operator said, “Obviously they’re (the fishermen) trimming a little fat out of their diet. It has been fishing in the Sierra, though.
Looking at the major concern picture, one of the biggest issues is water--or lack thereof. Going into September many reservoirs are experiencing the lowest water levels seen for many years, and the levels continue to drop. Two years of lack of substantial snowfall combined with hydro electric demands, downstream agricultural use and court-ordered flow levels are major factors.
The low levels are especially apparent on Bridgeport Reservoir and Grant lake. As of Friday (Aug. 29) Bridgeport Reservoir was holding 9,938 acre feet and dropping-- capacity is 49,000 acre fee.
Grant Lake, with a capacity of right around 45,000 acre feet, stands at 17,020 acre feet for the same date. The culprit for both locations is there’s more water going out than coming in. Grant Lake is a prime example with an outflow into lower Rush Creek of 33 CFC compared to upstream inflow of 15 CFC.
The Rush Creek flow is based on a court ordered level theoretically to maintain the downstream trout population, restore riparian habitat,, and provide water for Mono Lake. At this writing inflow to Mono Lake from Mono Basin streams was 63 CFC. Major players at Grant Lake are Southern California Edison that controls the water inflow for hydroelectric power, and court orders that focus on maintaining the level of Mono Lake.
A 1994 ruling by the State Water Resources Control Board calls for reduction in dry year Grant Lake outflow when lake level reaches the 11,500 acre foot level. With present conditions, the low water level isn’t too far down the road.
Bridgeport Reservoir is under the control of Nevada based Walker River Irrigation District. Downstream demand is from Nevada farmers and ranchers. The water’s trout population is not the highest priority. After the irrigation district de-watered the reservoir back in the late ‘80s the result was a court action that set a minimum pool of 3,500 acre feet. At present the East Walker River down stream flow is at 82 CFC with significantly less coming in.
Unless Mother Nature cooperates this winter, a major issue could develop as to which court order prevails -- minimum pool or stream flow. There’s going to have to be some modifications in reducing stream flows in order to maintain minimum lake levels. It’s time to reexamine rulings that were based on conditions going back more than a decade.
Don’t look for any definitive plans in the near future for the Mt. Whitney Hatchery which was devastated by July's flash flood. The big question is whether the hatchery re-open, and if so, will it be a production hatchery or as it was in the past a broodstock location. Availability of an adequate, compatible water supply is one of the major issues if the hatchery comes back on line.
On the up side, comments have been positive regarding DFG’s summer stocking program. The numbers were significantly increased over last year, thanks to AB 7. The average size has been better and more frequent plants have led to few complaints. The DFG was able to meet the challenge, even with the mud snail problem at Hot Creek and Mt Whitney’s closure, handled by transporting trout hundreds of miles from the Fillmore and Mojave River hatcheries to supplement stocking from the Fish Springs hatchery near Big Pine.
Look for the stocking schedules to continue to around the end of September with a significant slowdown usually around mid October. Also, because of the low water levels, stocking some of the smaller stream could be terminated.
And if you’re planning a trip to the high country, don’t even consider building a campfire or operating a charcoal grill outside a designated campground. There have been two major fires to date, one near Mammoth lakes and another north of Lee Vining, neither caused by lightning. Forest Service and local law enforcement are coming down hard when it comes to illegal campfires.