Officials Drain Caples Lake, Fish Kill Expected - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe News Weather, Video -

Officials Drain Caples Lake, Fish Kill Expected

Brandon Rittiman
Channel 2 News

Save the fish- or save the lake.

That's the problem confronting managers of Caples Lake, a large fishing lake south of Lake Tahoe.

Construction started on dams to create the lake in 1917 to store water for hydroelectric power

World War I caused a shortage of manpower and the lake didn't open until 1923.

Since then, no upkeep work seems to have been done on the dam's gates.

The dam's been owned and operated by the El Dorado Irrigation District (EID) for nearly a decade.

When workers had trouble opening and closing the gates this spring, they sent divers to inspect the system.

They found it was falling apart. (click here to see video of the inspection). "We found that the dam gates are on the verge of catastrophic failure," says EID Senior Engineer Jacob Eymann, "so we're concerned about losing control of our reservoir."

If the gate fails, it can get stuck in either the open or closed position and both scenarios are pretty bad.

If it gets stuck open, you'd get an uncontrolled release of Caples Lake, which could really mess up the ecosystem downstream and cause even more damage to the dam.

If it gets stuck closed, the lake could overflow over the spillway in spring. If enough water flows in, a secondary emergency spillway could send water running down Highway 88 doing damage to the only area roadway.

The lake has 62 feet of reservoir capacity. As of Friday, it was at 51 feet and falling. It's going to get down to just 5 feet.

Draining it for repairs will be costly. The fish population of the large lake will be forced to share a small pond only 15 feet deep at its deepest point.

The top 3 or 4 feet will freeze in winter, cramming them into an even smaller space.

A fish and game official compares it to sealing your bedroom air-tight with yourself and a hundred other people inside.

All of the trout in the lake will likely die, including Mackinaw trout introduced more than 50 years ago. Some are more than 40 years old and huge. Only young small Mackinaws can be used to restock the lake.

Officials can't move the fish to other lakes without comprehensive disease studies.. it's illegal to move live fish in California. "I think they should be able to find a way to fix the locks without having to drain the lake down that low," says Pixie Kinser, who used to own Caples Lake Resort, "or at least do it after fishing season."

If nobody can come up with a way to fix the dam gates without taking the lake that low, the fish will likely all die.

If it has to be that way, some want the Department of Fish & Game to allow anglers to take unlimited numbers of fish from the lake this summer, so they can go to use.

Fish & Game officials say they haven't begun the process of getting that approved, and getting through the hearings necessary could take more time than we have.

Caples Lake should be drained down to 5 feet by September 23.

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