MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

April 19, 2012

Trout oxygen solution possible

Agreement could stop fish kills on lower Illinois River

After numerous meetings and a fish kill this past year, a temporary solution to the irregular flow of water in the lower Illinois River appears to be close at hand.

Linda Burch, who along with her husband manage a popular trout camp along the river north of Gore, said she is hopeful about plans announced Wednesday.

“Last year, we went to several meetings — we always heard they had to study something or Congress would have to do something before anything could be done,” said Burch, manager of MarVal Resort. “This is the first time we’ve seen some resolve to do something.”

Jim Burroughs, regional fisheries supervisor for the Oklahoma Wildlife Department, said an agreement for temporary solution was sealed Monday. He said the plan involves the release of water from Tenkiller Lake through a metered piping system that bypasses Southwestern Power Administration’s generating plant and floodgates.

“We still won’t have any more water than we had before,” Burroughs said. “But we will be able to meter that water so it won’t be wasted, and the water we get will be super-saturated with oxygen so we shouldn’t have any more problems with fish kills.”

Burroughs said SWPA, an agency of the U.S. Energy Department that generates hydroelectric power, will fund the project. The Oklahoma Wildlife Department, Burroughs said, will be responsible for maintenance.

Congress, Burroughs said, will still have to act before more water is allocated to the lower Illinois River for recreational purposes. He said it appears doubtful the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will grant a request to raise the flood pool in Tenkiller Lake for that purpose because of concerns about areas of historical and cultural significance.

Burch said a meeting Wednesday at MarVal Resort, where details of the plan were announced, attracted more than 50 people. The inconsistent flow of water in the popular trout stream has taken a toll on the local economy, she said.

Problems began after repairs to the Tenkiller Lake dam plugged a leak that had allowed a steady flow of fresh water to the trout stream below. A fish kill this past year highlighted the problem. The trout fishery, when it thrives, is estimated to bring in $5 million annually to the local economy.

“I always feel bad saying it is hurting us because it is hurting everyone down here,” Burch said about the inconsistency in the amount of water allowed to flow downstream. “Not knowing the flow schedule makes it difficult for fishermen to plan trips — and the publicity after the big fish kill didn’t help — but it looks like everybody is working to find a solution.”

Burroughs said SWPA officials should know by the end of the month how much it will cost to install and equip the piping system. Burroughs said the plan is to have the system operating by the beginning of summer.

“We’ve had lots and lots of meetings,” Burroughs said. “This is the first time we have had anything positive to walk out with.”

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot @muskogeephoenix.com.

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