U.S. Water News Online
BOISE, Idaho -- Drought continued to plague anglers
throughout Idaho in 2003 and took an increasingly significant toll on
fisheries in the eastern part of the state.
``If long-range weather forecasts are to be believed, the outlook
for the 2004 fishing year will not be much different,'' the Fish and
Game Department reports in its latest assessment of water conditions.
``Government climate experts see another year of low winter moisture
and drought for the West.''
Another winter of limited precipitation means steelhead and salmon
smolts will take a longer, warmer, even more lethal ride down the
river system over the dams to the Pacific Ocean, the report said. Low
water in small streams also reduces the numbers of those fish before
they are ready to go to the ocean.
Fisheries managers reported that conditions deteriorated as they
moved from the Panhandle through north-central Idaho into the
southwestern and southern parts of the state. The situation became
severe in the southeastern and Upper Snake River regions.
The state north of the Salmon River felt subtle effects of the
drought. Several Panhandle lakes are lower than normal and
groundwater recharge in some areas is low, reducing some stream
flows. But most fisheries were still considered to be in relatively
good shape heading into the winter.
But the fourth year of drought in southeastern Idaho has had a
devastating effect, managers said. Reservoirs that offer quality
fishing in good water years have been drained to meet irrigation
needs and their fisheries depleted.
The Blackfoot Reservoir, which provided adult rearing habitat for
the wild Yellowstone cutthroat trout that spawn in the upper
Blackfoot River, was drained to just 4 percent of capacity for the
winter, which is insufficient to support the fish until spring.
``Since most upper Blackfoot River adult cutthroat spend their
winters in Blackfoot Reservoir, this population may be reduced to a
record low number during the coming winter,'' the assessment
In the Upper Snake River region, catch rates were down and some
fisheries lost access and aesthetics as water managers stretched
supplies for irrigation. The reduced river flows are also weakening
reproductive rates for cutthroat in the South Fork of the Snake River
and rainbows in the Henrys Fork of the Snake River.
``The Big Lost, Little Lost, Willow Creek and the small streams in
the Centennial Mountains all have suffered extremely low water for
the past three years,'' the assessment found. ``Many of the trout
populations appear to be in fairly rapid decline.''
In southern Idaho, economic problems facing the commercial trout
industry turned into a boon for fishermen. The hatcheries in the
Hagerman area gave the Fish and Game Department more than 500,000
catchable-sized rainbows this year, permitting significantly greater
stocking efforts than in past years.
In southwestern Idaho, some reservoirs were also drained, but a
slightly heavier snowpack minimized the drought's effects this year.
The Boise River system had adequate flows throughout much of the
year although flows in some mountain streams were limited, affecting
wild trout populations.
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