Agency serious about trout tailwaters now

Harrisburg — Most of the truly great wild-trout fisheries in the United States are tailwaters, according to Bill Worobec. But none of them are in the Keystone State.

That needs to change, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat commissioner from Lycoming County contends.

At his urging, the board of commissioners, at their recent meeting here, voted unanimously to pursue a policy of developing tailwaters.

Tailwater trout fisheries – fed by cold-water releases from the bottom of large reservoirs – create wild-trout habitat that extends for miles below dams.

Last year, when Worobec was president of the board, he directed commission staff to explore creating tailwaters. The policy statement adopted this summer, he noted, will guide the agency in its continuing quest to create world-class, wild-trout water.

“The commissioners recognize that the commonwealth’s cold-water fish populations are  increasingly imperiled by factors beyond the commission’s control,” the statement reads.

“Pennsylvania’s large reservoirs provide opportunities to expand wild-trout populations in the tailwaters with careful manipulation of cold-water releases from those reservoirs.

“Therefore, the commissioners direct the executive director  to actively seek and maximize opportunities available to protect, conserve and enhance, wherever possible, wild-trout populations in tailwaters below existing reservoirs.”

Commissioner Bob Bachman, of Lancaster County, suggested that persuading partners to establish cold-water releases for tailwater trout fisheries requires commission staffers to employ delicate negotiating skills.

He should know. Bachman is credited with creating several tailwater trout fisheries years ago while he was director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service.

“We are looking for opportunities to expand our naturally reproducing wild-trout populations,” he said. “This is a way to do that, to create habitat.”

Dams under consideration

Dave Miko, cold-water fisheries manager for the commission, briefed commissioners on the six reservoirs agency staff have selected as candidates for creating tailwater trout fisheries.

The first is Quemahoning Reservoir  just south of Hollsopple in Somerset County. Dam construction  on Quemahoning Creek was completed way back in 1913.

The reservoir created by this dam is about five miles long and two miles wide at its widest point, and drains into the Stonycreek River.

The release from Quemahoning Dam is cold enough to support trout and create a tailwater fishery, Miko explained, but the stream below the dam is devoid of habitat for trout because it was dredged years ago.

Commissioner Len Lichvar, of Somerset County, who has lobbied to have Quemahoning included in the tailwaters initiative, noted that the local conservation district plans to start an extensive habitat-improvement project in the stream next year..

Miko said the Fish & Boat Commission is prepared to stock brown and rainbow trout fingerlings in the stream in 2013 if the habitat is suitable.

Francis E. Walter Dam on the Lehigh River on Carbon and Luzerne counties near Whitehaven is also a candidate.

The commission is currently evaluating flow models from that flood-control dam, owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to determine what releases are needed to create a tailwater trout fishery.

Miko noted that the dam’s tower might need to be modified to allow for more bottom releases, and there has been talk of increasing the reservoir’s 80-acre pool to store more cold water.

Lake Wallenpaupack, a hydro-electric dam on Wallenpaupack Creek near Hawley, is the third candidate for creating a tailwater trout fishery.

On the border of Pike and Wayne counties, it is owned by PP&O. Miko said the agency is currently negotiating with power company officials about cold-water releases.

Raystown Dam in Huntingdon County is the fourth candidate selected by commission staff.

Raystown Lake is the largest lake that is entirely within Pennsylvania. It is a hydroelectric project. The 8,300-acre reservoir was completed in 1973 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Created primarily to control floods, provide electricity and support recreational activities, Raystown dam is currently releasing warm water into the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River.

The Raystown Branch flows 5.4 miles to its mouth with the larger Juniata River.

Fish & Boat Commission officials recently met onsite with Corps officials about changing Raystown’s release from warm water to cold.

According to Miko, the commission is submitting a letter formally requesting the change to the Baltimore District Office of the Army Corps.

Cannonsville Reservoir is also on the commission’s list. The re­ser­voir in Delaware County, New York, was formed by impounding more than half of the West Branch of the Delaware River.

The westernmost of New York City’s reservoirs, put in service in 1964, it is the most recently constructed New York City-owned reservoir.

The commission is involved in complex multi-agency, multi-state negotiations with New York City to increase Cannonsville Dam’s cold-water releases.

The final dam under consideration for the tailwater trout initiative is Beltzville Dam.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control project, the dam on Pohopoco Creek creates a 951-acre lake in Carbon County.

Beltzville Dam is already required to meet cold-water release requirements, Miko conceded, but must do better.

“We need to work closer with the folks at Beltzville to see if there is a way to more efficiently use the cold water that is available in Beltzville Lake,” he said.

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