TRUCKEE, Calif. — Hundreds of juvenile fish that found themselves literally out of water in the Little Truckee River were recently relocated in hopes they can survive impacts of the ongoing drought.
On July 30, the Reno-based Federal Water Master halted Boca Reservoir water releases due to running out of available storage, causing flows south of the reservoir to drop from 125 cubic feet per second to nearly zero cfs, said Chad Blanchard, the federal water master.
While it’s “very common” for Boca releases to be cut off, Blanchard said the result this time was unexpected — hundreds of wild brown and rainbow trout and native mountain whitefish were left stranded, unable to swim downstream to the Truckee River.
“We (Stefan McLeod, president of Trout Unlimited Truckee Chapter No. 103) were shocked at what we saw,” said David Lass, Trout Unlimited California field director, in a statement. “Just days before, in runs where McLeod happily caught and released wild bows and browns exceeding 20 inches, (they) now ran completely dry, exposing the jagged river bottom.”
The dry riverbed left many fish dead, Lass said, but isolated pools of water were full of alive wild trout and native whitefish and sculpin.
Since trout need cold, oxygen-rich water to survive, Lass said, “we knew we had to take advantage of the short window to take action.”
On the morning of July 31, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Trout Unlimited volunteers focused on relocating the surviving fish to the nearby Truckee River.
“Considering the short distance and the nearby connectivity of the Little Truckee to the main stem Truckee, the release site was considered the best alternative to offer conditions that would allow the captured fish to survive,” said Janice Mackey, a public information officer for California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Residents can visit tahoetroutbum.org to learn more about the Truckee Trout Unlimited group, or attend “Friends of the Forest Day” from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at Prosser Creek Dam Road.
The free volunteer event is sponsored by the group, along with the National Forest Foundation, U.S. Forest Service and Sierra Nevada Brewing, and involves working in Lower Prosser Creek to create spawning beads for wild trout. Email Lisa Leonard at email@example.com for information.
Sources for the Truckee River include precipitation (rain and snowmelt) and flows from Boca Reservoir and Lake Tahoe, Blanchard said.
Since 1975, flows out of Boca have been off for a total of 2,366 days based on need and availability of water, he said last week.
As of Tuesday, Lake Tahoe was at 6,223.79 feet above sea level; its natural rim is 6,223 feet. Once the lake hits its natural rim, flow into the Truckee River will cease.
“Tahoe is hanging in there much more than we anticipated, which is really good,” Blanchard said.
Water levels in the Sierra appear to be on a similar track from five years ago. The last time Lake Tahoe dipped below its natural rim was October 2009 (which was the first time since October 2004), as a result of a three-year dry spell.
The snow- and water-rich winter of 2010-11 greatly helped boost levels, but the past three dry winters have led to current drought conditions in the region and much of the West.
And while recent rain showers and cloud cover have helped lower the rate of evaporation, it hasn’t made a dent in California’s drought situation.
As of last week, 99.80 percent of California was in “severe drought,” 81.92 percent was in “extreme drought,” and 58.41 percent was in “exceptional drought” — with the latter including the Truckee/Tahoe region, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
According to Truckee Meadows Water Authority research, it takes roughly two or three years of non-drought precipitation on average to refill Lake Tahoe after a drought period.
Sun Managing Editor Kevin MacMillan contributed to this report.