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Green Ribbon Reports

October 2004

Plumas County Fisheries Face Eco-Threat

by Dale Knutson, Save Lake Almanor

The trophy trout fisheries at Lake Almanor and Butt Valley Reservoir are facing a serious threat from a scheme proposed by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and the State Water Resources Control Board. The plan calls for large amounts of cold water to be withdrawn from Lake Almanor and sent downstream to cool the lower reaches of the North Fork of the Feather River (NFFR). This artificial cooling is intended to enhance the trout habitat in those downstream reaches, but it will simultaneously damage the fisheries in the upstream lakes.

If the plan is implemented, PG&E would install "thermal curtains" around the water intake tower at Lake Almanor. Large metal floats would suspend a heavy fabric curtain in the lake, extending from the surface down some distance into the water. The curtain prevents warm surface waters from entering the water intake, allowing the withdrawal of the deeper cold waters. The withdrawn water passes through a tunnel and penstock to the Butt Valley Powerhouse and into the reservoir there. PG&E has indicated that it will install thermal curtains at Butt Valley Reservoir as well, to minimize warming of the water before it heads further downstream.

By the time the Lake Almanor water reaches the area where improved habitat is desired, there has been a great deal of mixing with warmer waters from other tributaries. According to studies funded by PG&E, the anticipated final temperature reduction from this scheme would only be approximately one degree Celsius.

Local residents are incensed by this proposal, since it would produce only a very minor improvement in downstream trout habitat, would cost roughly $53 million to implement, and would cause major damage to the upstream ecosystem. Further, the cost of these imprudent measures will be passed on to the PG&E ratepayers. They point out that even PG&E’s own studies show that the scheme would reduce the summertime cold water pool in Lake Almanor by up to 50%, which would push the "thermocline" (where the lake trout favor the temperature) down about ten feet, forcing them into an area nearer the bottom where the dissolved oxygen is inadequate. The thermal curtains would also block the passage of pond smelt from Lake Almanor into Butt Valley Reservoir, which would eliminate that critical food supply for the trout at Butt Valley.

A grass roots effort to stop this destructive plan has now begun, and locals have placed more information on the subject at their website:

FWA Editorial Note: This is a prime example of an environmental agenda gone awry. This proposal to provide a nominal temperature increase in the North Fork of the Feather River to provide minimal benefit to fish located in this stretch of river is ludicrous. It would devastate two other fisheries (Lake Almanor and Butt Valley Reservoir), harm the tourism industry of an economy already impacted by environmental regulation of the forestry industry, needlessly increase the rates of PG&E customers, and result in a net loss to the environment of the region. It is time some common sense be factored into the equation in regard to this proposal, and the environmental agenda as a whole. The word "responsibility" must have a place in the environmental movement. Factors such as a cost-benefit, net impacts to the ecosystem, and social issues must be examined prior to pursuing ill-advised measures to modify existing policies, infrastructure and ecosystems. Otherwise, proposals such as this will continue to do more harm than good.

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