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Settlement May Restore San Gabriel River Trout Habitat

September 26, 1985|VICTOR VALLE | Times Staff Writer

The county would provide $250,000 and help restore a healthy environment for the wild trout native to the San Gabriel River's West Fork under a proposed settlement of a civil suit over a 1981 fish kill.

But even before it is signed, the proposal has drawn opposition from two sport fishing organizations concerned that it does not include enough protections to ensure that the trout can once again thrive in the West Fork.

Officials of the county Department of Public Works (DPW) and the state Department of Fish and Game confirmed this week that they had reached agreement on key points under negotiation.

The Fish and Game Department filed a $2-million suit against the Los Angeles County Flood Control District (now a subdivision of the public works agency) after the district released water carrying tons of silt into the West Fork during repairs to the Cogswell Dam in 1981. The silt from a reservoir behind the dam destroyed the more than seven-mile-long habitat for an estimated 24,000 trout, killing or displacing thousands of fish, according to Fish and Game officials.

Fish and Game records indicate that the West Fork trout population is now only about 8,000, a third of what it was before the silt destroyed the habitat, which once provided the best fly fishing close to the Los Angeles area.

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the county public works agency would:

-Seek $250,000 from the county Board of Supervisors to restore and protect the trout population. The money would be used to conduct a geologic study of the stream, ensure that it is not overfished and restore the deep pools and gravel beds, which are critical to trout spawning.

-Provide Fish and Game officials with an environmental impact report each time they planned to remove silt from the reservoir behind the dam. The county agency agrees to consider "all reasonable alternatives" for removing the silt from the bottom of the reservoir.

-Continue to supply the flow of water into the stream to sustain the trout if there is sufficient rainfall, as long as it is consistent with the agency's "primary mission of providing flood control and water conservation."

Terms of the settlement must be reviewed by the state attorney general's office and then approved by the county Board of Supervisors. An aide to Supervisor Pete Schabarum said the supervisors have not seen the proposed settlement.

Fred A. Worthley Jr., manager of Region 5 for the Fish and Game Department, and Jim Easton, assistant director of the county public works department, said that the two agencies had agreed on the major points in the settlement and that the final language is being written by their attorneys.

But two angling organizations that were sent copies of the proposed agreement by Worthley want more assurances that the trout will be protected. The two groups recently criticized Worthley, the head of California's largest and most populous wildlife management area, for failing to prevent two fish kills this year in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Both agencies blamed a communication breakdown for causing thousands of trout and other native fish to die in May and June in two places in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Jim Edmondson, a director of the Pasadena Casting Club, said his group is concerned that the county public works agency would still have the final say as to how and when water is released from the dam.

He said more binding environmental constraints should be included in the settlement.

For example, Edmondson said, the agreement should specify exactly how much water is needed to sustain the trout population. And the county department of public works should also be forced to find ways to release water from the reservoir behind the dam without sending dangerous amounts of silt into the West Fork.

Worthley said he agreed with the points raised by Edmondson and that efforts may be made to seek some stronger safeguards in the final agreement.

"I'd like to see as firm language as possible in the agreement," Worthley said. "The trick is getting these conditions included with very definitive language. That's what the department's attorneys and the attorney general's office are working on."

Edmondson, whose 250-member club has played a leading role in helping to restore some plant life and fish to the West Fork, said he is concerned that county public works has "not lived up to agreements in the past." Tougher protections are needed, he said, because the department misled the public when it promised to release no more than 1,000 cubic yards of silt while repairing a valve in the dam in 1981. Instead, more than 200,000 cubic yards of silt was released, killing a large portion of the trout population and the plants necessary for them to maintain life.

County public works officials have admitted that trout were killed and the habitat destroyed because of the agency's action.

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