Fish receive a jolt for stream study
Clad in a metallic backpack, hip waders and a big white cowboy hat, Stafford Lehr walks through the cold water of Trout Creek and, with a long, rod-like instrument, shocks the small swimming trout.
The fish are stunned temporarily and float powerless in the water. While a class from South Tahoe Middle School watches from the bank, another biologist nearby scoops the fish up in a net and dumps them into a bucket held by another official.
What these California Fish and Game officials were doing Wednesday morning was surveying the fish population of the channeled Trout Creek. When the long process of rerouting the stream into a more natural meandering condition is complete in upcoming years, the data collected will be used to see how the trout populations will be affected.
After they were weighed and counted, the fish – rainbow, brook, Paiute sculpin and brown trout – were returned to the water. Most were small juvenile trout; a few were adults.
“We’re conducting a fish survey to get a population estimate of the different species in the channel,” said Lehr, a fisheries biologist for Fish and Game. “We’ll take this information to compare it to what we find when the new reconfigured channel in a few years.”
Lehr said the survey will be done again next year, so officials have two-year’s worth of data for a baseline.
Portions of Trout Creek do not zigzag as a natural stream should. A part between Pioneer Trail and Martin Avenue is more like a gun barrel, shooting sediment downstream and into the increasingly murky Lake Tahoe. The city of South Lake Tahoe, California Tahoe Conservancy and other agencies are trying to stop that. Earlier this year, crews started working on the $2.9 million Trout Creek Wildlife Habitat Enhancement and Restoration Project, the largest stream restoration project officials have ever started in the Tahoe Basin.
In the past, the creek was diverted and straightened. With the human-made alterations, the channel now is too deep and too steep. In a naturally existing condition, Trout Creek should overflow its banks every year to year and a half. When that happens, sediment would be scattered and deposited throughout the meadow. The system functions to not only keep large amounts of sediment from flowing into the lake but also to keep the meadow’s ecosystem healthy.
Trout Creek now rarely overflows. During what should be flood events, the water’s power remains concentrated within its channel and causes massive erosion of the banks.
Lehr said the more natural zigzagging channel should help fish habitat as well.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to show a significant benefit to the aquatic biota in here from the restoration of the stream channel,” he said.
Work on the two-mile segment won’t be completed until fall 2001.
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