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The debate over dams

Bruce Ajari

Recently, there has been a considerable amount of attention focused on dams and how they impact fisheries. There is no question that damming rivers has caused a serious decline in sport fisheries.

The current plight of the salmon and steelhead in the Sacramento River drainage is a function of dams, agricultural diversions, and pollution. Damming rivers tends cause a serious alteration in the cyclical flow of a natural occurring river.

To be healthy, a river must be given the opportunity to cleanse itself. This was the case on our own Truckee River in 1997 when the flooding occurred. As though who have fished the river since then can attest, siltation was becoming significant problem. The silt created a loss of spawning habitat for trout, particularly in the upper portions of our water that were historically great for trout rearing. The flood flushed the silt out of the system and restored the stream to a very “clean” state.

I am sure that all of you have heard the term “clean rivers are healthy rivers.” This is certainly true, but clean water alone cannot sustain a healthy river.

The other part of the equation is that flows must be adequate to sustain healthy fisheries. We see great fluctuations in the releases in our local water systems. These changes in flows can cause great harm to the fishery by causing flows that are too low to sustain fish or dewatering miles of streambed.

In other states, the issue of dams vs. environmental issues is coming full circle. Dams are coming down from coast to coast, dismantled by communities setting wild rivers free again. Recently, amid much fanfare, state authorities in Maine oversaw the breaching of the 162 year-old Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River.

What is happening is that the economic value of the river in its natural state through the fisheries and aquatic insects is outweighing the value of the hyrdo-electric power that the dam is generating. How is this measured? One is to determine what people are willing to pay for. When anglers go fishing, they buy tackle, gas, food, and so on, and stay in motels. From that information one can calculate the value of fish in a river and the economic value of the fishery.

Another way to determine the value is by determining what people are willing to give up in return for certain environmental conditions. The classic example here is establishment of wilderness areas and forgoing the extraction of valuable natural resources from those areas in return for preserving them.

Putting the value of fish and aquatic insects into dollar terms seems to be the approach that most people and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) understand. Others find this economic approach to be less than acceptable, and feel that there is “more to life than money.”

Whatever the approach, dams can cause many problems for fisheries. Locally, one only has to look at the construction of Derby Dam to divert water to Fallon as the blow that caused the near extinction of the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout in Pyramid Lake.

Recently, Sierra Pacific Power Company moved for a negative declaration on reconstruction of the dam at Floriston that was washed out during the flood of 1997. There is no question that this section would be better off environmentally without reconstruction of this dam.

This area did provide for some very good early season fishing prior to a railroad project that caused tons of silt to be washed into the river. The Department of Fish and Game fined them, but the damage was done and the fishery was ruined until the river was flushed out during the flood.

The one other recent change that concerns this writer, is the change in the responsibility of releasing water out of Lake Tahoe. This past month the Bureau of Reclamation was given responsibility for releases of water from the Tahoe City dam. Given their less than stellar record at Stampede, regulating the Little Truckee River, people should be very concerned about the Truckee River.

Before we bash dams too badly, they have created some terrific artificial fisheries that we all call “tailwater” fisheries. One only has to look at the Bighorn in Montana, the Green in Utah, the San Juan in New Mexico, the Colorado River in Arizona, and the White River in Arkansas as examples of excellent fisheries that exist just because of dams.

Are anglers ready to give up these fisheries for “wild rivers?” Is the public ready to give up storage of water for drinking and flood control to return rivers to their natural state?

This is an issue that has been and will continue to be the hottest topic in generations to come. As California and Nevada grow, the search for additional water supplies will be ongoing. Developers will try and create dams and move water from other locations, and anglers and many in the general public will challenge them with environmental issues.

Mark Twain said it best, “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting!” Believe me, water may be the most precious commodity that we have on earth, and how we manage it is one of the most critical issues for this and future generations.

FISHING REPORT

Boca – (37,492 ac. ft.) Boca has been fishing fair. Anglers fishing from shore are still having success. Most anglers use nightcrawlers or Powerbait and lures from shore in deeper water. Boaters are also having some success. Most were using a combination of flashers and a nightcrawler or minnow imitating lure. Kokanee fishing has been good. Flyfishermen near the inlet are having fair to good action using a variety of nymphs, streamers, and emergers.

Donner – Fishing has been fair to good. Most anglers fishing for rainbows on the west-end and near the launch ramp have had some success. Best times continue to be early and late in the day. Nightcrawlers and Powerbait seem to be the main bait. Trollers using minnow imitating lures have had fair to good success.

Lake Tahoe – (Elevation 6228.61) Fishing has been good for mackinaw. Most fish typically are in the five to seven pound range. A guide is highly recommended if you are fishing for mackinaw for the first time. Toplining and shore fishing has been fair.

Martis Lake – (Martis is restricted to artificial lures with barbless hooks. Zero fish may bagged or possessed) Fishing is fair. The warmer temperatures in the lake have caused fishermen to concentrate on early morning and evening hours. Most use nymphs such as the Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tail, Damselfly imitations or the A.P. Streamers that imitate small fish, and woolly buggers are also good choices. For surface activity, patterns such as the Quiqley Cripple, Martis Midge, Parachute Adams, and Griffith s Gnat are good choices. Blood midge in the evenings are still working. Lots of midge activity on calm days and during morning and evenings. Midge pupa patterns can also be good.

Little Truckee River – Fishing has been fair to good. Fishing has been fair to good near the inlet area of the Little Truckee into Boca reservoir. Flyfishermen fishing this stretch between Stampede and Boca concentrate on nymphs and streamers, but there has been some good dry fly action at times.

Prosser – (23,407 ac. ft.) Fishing has slowed a bit. Fishing here is mostly with nightcrawlers or Powerbait. Trollers have been successful using flasher combinations. Flyfishermen near the inlets have taken a few fish mostly on nymphs and streamers.

Stampede – (208,388 ac.ft.) Stampede is fair to good. Most shore anglers are still catching fish. Concentrate on the deeper water. Most use the typical baits, nightcrawlers or Powerbait. Topliners have fair to good success for kokanee salmon early and late in the day. Downriggers are best during the rest of the day. Most use a flasher of some sort and a kokanee bug or wedding ring with a piece of white corn.

Truckee River – The release is 268 cubic feet per second from the dam at Tahoe City. The river is at 276 cubic feet per second in the Truckee area. Fishing has been good: Nymphs and streamers have accounted for most of the fish. Dries such as the Humpy, Adams, Elk Hair Caddis, and the Quigley Cripple are all fishing well.

Other Waters – Davis and Frenchman lakes fished fair this past week. Reports indicate that fishing remains pretty good, but the fish are in deeper water.


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