Concerned about damage to the wild trout habitat of the West Fork of the San Gabriel River by a dam test last March, three government agencies and a sportfishermen's group have agreed in concept to manage the area's water resources cooperatively.
The agreement--signed last week by representatives of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, the California Department of Fish and Game, the U. S. Forest Service and CalTrout--directs the four groups to consult on all matters affecting fisheries and the stream two weeks before any water management actions are taken in the mountain canyon.
The cooperative plan comes in the wake of a valve test at Cogswell Dam on March 19 that released a "wall of water" which officials from the state Department of Fish and Game say crushed thousands of trout eggs, washed away gravel beds used for spawning and killed or dispersed insects needed by the fish for survival.
Officials from the county Department of Public Works, which operates the dam, contend that the test was needed to ensure that safe flood control and water conservation can be provided.
"We are not fish experts and we do not have a biologist on staff," DPW spokesman Roslyn Robson said. "When we can cooperate in any sort of recreational activity, we will do so, as long as it's commensurate with the safe operation of our dams."
Environmentalists, who say that the cooperative agreement does not preclude legal action against the DPW for the habitat damage, are hopeful that a long-term management plan can be achieved.
"I think we're going to go farther working together than beating each other over the head," said Jim Edmondson, regional manager of the 2,000-member CalTrout sportsmen's group and conservation chairman of the Pasadena Casting Club. "It's a challenge . . . but frankly there are no guarantees."
The agreement calls for a long-term management plan to be completed within a year that would address stream flow requirements, questions of water rights, dam safety, flood control, fisheries, recreation and land use management. While the four groups will consult jointly on matters affecting fisheries and stream impacts, the DPW will continue to operate Cogswell Dam for flood control and water conservation purposes.
"The fishing areas are downstream of the dam," Robson said. "The flows totally affect the fishing. Communication with experts in fishery management seems to be the key to this."
Silt Washed Downstream
Fish experts and the DPW have long been at odds over the West Fork.
Fish and Game filed a $2-million suit against the Los Angeles County Flood Control District (now a DPW subdivision) after the district accidentally released water carrying tons of silt into the West Fork during 1981 repairs to a valve at Cogswell Dam. About 200,000 cubic yards of silt from the reservoir behind the dam destroyed the 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 trout population in the West Fork, which once provided the best fly fishing close to the Los Angeles area, had dropped to 8,000 before the valve test in March. Because of the test, Fish and Game has asked the state attorney general's office to suspend negotiations over settlement of the $2-million suit.