Dam repairs require draining of Caples
August 6, 2008
Carson Valley anglers who prefer the wide blue waters of Caples Lake on the west side of Carson Pass may need to find a new fishing spot.
The El Dorado Irrigation District that controls the flow of the lake has begun a drastic drawdown that will continue into September so that workers may replace two old slide gates on the lake’s main dam.
The lake will be lowered from 17,500 acre feet of water, a depth of 54 feet, to 584 acre feet of water, a depth of 11 feet.
“The last thing we want to do is drawdown the lake during the recreation season,” said water district General Manager Tom Gallier in a press release. “But we are responsible for safe operation of the two dams at the lake, and the badly deteriorated slide gates at the main dam must be replaced for us to do that.
“We need to start lowering the lake level now to complete the necessary repairs this fall and return to normal conditions.”
In 1999, El Dorado Irrigation District purchased rights to Caples Lake from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. as part of Project 184, a hydroelectric power generation system.
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In June, divers discovered the decrepit slide gates, which were installed in the early 1900s. The district board declared an emergency, stating that a gate failure could mean the “uncontrolled release of the entire active storage of Caples Lake.”
Directly affected by the drawdown are the lake’s legendary trophy-sized fish.
Mackinaw, German browns, rainbow and cutthroat trout, some exceeding 30 inches in length, will have to compete for diminishing, deoxygenated space, especially before the lake’s surface freezes over this winter.
“The Caples Lake fishery may be destroyed,” said John Voss, owner of Caples Lake Resort.
Voss said the ecological and environmental impacts of the drawdown should have been vetted.
“If the fishery is quickly restocked following construction, it will take seven to 10 years for the trout population to return to its current healthy and robust condition,” he said. “It will take 40 years for the Mackinaw to reach the 26-pound, 39-inch size they are now.”
Voss wants to know who is obligated to protect the fishery and the tourist economy it bolsters.
“What is the plan and what is the cost to save the doomed fishery and who will pay for it?” he said. “Will the revenue the EID receives from the hydroelectric power generated and consumptive water sales be used to re-establish the Caples Lake fishery?”
Another concern for Voss is loss of boating opportunities for the late summer/early fall season.
According to the drawdown schedule, the lake will reach 39 feet by August 19. Voss said the lake’s concrete boat ramp becomes inoperable at 52 feet and the low-water gravel ramp inoperable at 46 feet.
“This will curtail business drastically,” he said.
The irrigaiton district’s environmental review manager Dan Corcoran said the district is trying its best to mitigate effects of the drawdown.
“As an example, for fisheries we are examining a number of alternatives, including construction of a temporary ‘bladder’ dam to hold water to sustain the lake and downstream fisheries during construction and throughout the winter,” he stated in a press release issued July 24.
However, on Wednesday, the irrigation district’s public information officer Deanne Kloepfer said California’s Department of Fish and Game wasn’t sure about the effectiveness of a temporary dam structure.
“Preliminary talks with Fish and Game indicate that what we could store behind the bladder dam while still making it safe for workers wouldn’t be enough to preserve the fishery,” she said. “Hopes are pretty dim. It’s a disruptive situation for us all. We are trying to do our best.”
For more information about the Caples Lake drainage, visit http://www.eid.org.