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Plan to divert cold water from Lake Almanor gets chilly reaction

The State Water Resources Control Board proposes to release cold water from Lake Almanor in Plumas County to help fish by reducing downstream temperatures in the Feather River.
The State Water Resources Control Board proposes to release cold water from Lake Almanor in Plumas County to help fish by reducing downstream temperatures in the Feather River. Los Angeles Times file

A chorus of critics blasted state water officials Wednesday over a proposal to divert cold water from Lake Almanor into the Feather River in an effort to protect a native trout fishery.

Anglers, business owners and local scientists denounced an environmental study, prepared by the State Water Resources Control Board, for poor and dated data, and failure to analyze the project’s effect on issues ranging from the local economy to American Indian burial sites.

The project, part of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s application to renew licenses on its Feather River hydroelectric projects at Rock Creek and Cresta, aims to lower the temperature of the river 40 miles below Lake Almanor through enormous devices known as thermal curtains. It also recommends seasonal releases of cold water from a PG&E outlet at the Almanor dam, to flow directly into the river channel.

The overall goal is reduce temperatures in the Feather River near Belden to around 68 degrees Fahrenheit to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.

Dominating public comment at the three-hour meeting were speakers who touted the recreational value of Lake Almanor over the downstream fishery the project is designed to protect.

“Who cares about down below? We live here,” said Jeff LeBert of Chester.

Removing cold water from the century-old reservoir would damage a fishery already at a critical stage, said Aaron Seandel, chairman of Lake Almanor Water Quality Committee. He cited consistent declines in the lake’s dissolved oxygen. Additional releases of cold water would exacerbate the deterioration of the lake’s habitat, he said.

Kenneth A. Wilson, an environmental attorney whose grandfather founded a business on Lake Almanor in 1923, called the environmental study “a disaster.” The alternatives it proposes are “ludicrous” and “will end our family business,” he said.

No one wants the thermal curtain, said Chris Shutes, a spokesman for the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. He urged the water board to develop alternatives that improve the Almanor fishery but noted that temperatures in the Feather River are consistently above 71 degrees Fahrenheit.

“That kills fish. It just does,” Shutes said.

Public comments are due by noon March 26 to Peter Barnes, State Water Resources Control Board, Water Quality Certification Program, P.O. Box 2000, Sacramento 95812 or Peter.Barnes@waterboards.ca.gov.

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