California Reservoir Drains, Killing Thousands of Fish
Residents of Westwood, California are wondering how a nearby reservoir drained, killing most of the fish. Mountain Meadow Reservoir, also known as Walker Lake, is a shallow body of water that emptied during the weekend of September 12. More than a week later, thousands of dead fish are scattered across the muddy lake bed and in the creek below the dam.
56-year-old Eddy Bauer has lived near the lake his entire life. This is the first time he has seen it run dry.
"It's amazing how many people have come out to see the destruction," Bauer said. "My wife, for instance, was holding her nose, can't even stand the smell."
Walker Lake's water rights are owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Company. The dam allows them to use the water for hydroelectric power. Paul Moreno is a spokesperson for the company. He says they haven't used any of the water since March, when they determined there was not enough water to sustain the lake for the rest of the year. That is also when water flows, out of the lake, were reduced to the minimum requirement of four cubic feet per second, to keep fish alive, downstream.
"It's a situation we worked hard to avoid but the reality is we're in a serious drought and there are also concerns for the fish that were downstream," Moreno said.
Moreno said the drought is the main reason why the reservoir drained and that the lake never reached capacity because of low snow runoff.
"The situation, we worked hard to avoid but water conditions, this year, are difficult and we know that drying up the reservoir disappoints area residents," Moreno said.
Bauer said the situation could have been avoided, saying it is a result of several years of water diversion. Creeks that feed into the lake are still flowing, but the water is being used for agriculture before it reaches Mountain Meadows Reservoir. So, water is flowing out of the lake but none is coming into it.
"They had plenty of time to do something about this, years," Bauer said. "Everybody gets in a fuss when it's too late, when we've lost our fish."
Bauer said people were fishing on the lake, September 12. It was empty by the next day, draining like a bathtub, overnight. He said there should have been at least two weeks of water left, giving them enough time to relocate the fish.
"It just makes me feel like they really didn't want to do a fish rescue and that it was easier just to open that sucker up, Saturday night," Bauer said.
While Bauer believes flows were increased out of the dam, PG&E says they have been kept at a consistent level since March.
"We want you to know that we take environmental stewardship very seriously," Moreno said. "It's one of our company's top priorities."
Fish species in Walker Lake include bass, perch, and catfish. Moreno says, luckily, none of them are endangered species. The lake is expected to fill up by the spring but it is unknown how or if the fish will be replaced.