The California Department of Fish and Game's plan to poison all the fish in one San Joaquin Valley lake and two river systems that flow across Tulare and Kings counties was put on hold Tuesday by an order from the California Supreme Court.
The massive project, to have started today, was designed to eliminate the predatory white bass populations in the Kaweah and Tule River systems before they migrate north into the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta.
White bass are a non-native game fish that were illegally planted in Lake Kaweah and other waterways in the Central Valley, according to Nick Villa, the department's White Bass Project director. He said these voracious predators will pose a threat to the salmon, steelhead trout and striped bass fisheries in the Delta if they manage to migrate north from Tulare Lake into the San Joaquin River drainage system and eventually end up in the Delta.
To kill the white bass, the state wants to pump nearly 6,000 gallons of the insecticide rotenone into Kaweah Lake, a 150,000 acre-foot flood control and irrigation reservoir operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. The lake--located just outside Sequoia National Park--is a popular recreational area in the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Visalia.
Another 4,000 gallons of the fish poison was to have been applied by helicopter along the the Kaweah River as it flows through rich farmlands southwest into the Tulare Lake Basin, in Kings County. The lower reaches of the Tule River were also to be treated, officials said.
Tuesday's ruling stayed an appellate court decision that had cleared the way for the state to begin poisoning the lake and its tributaries.
The Supreme Court order, signed by Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas, requires the state to delay its plans until the justices decide whether or not they will consider the county's petition to block the fish-kill.
The Tulare County Board of Supervisors opposes the fish-kill and has twice gone to court in its heretofore unsuccessful effort to block the project. County attorneys argue that the state does not have sufficient reason or authority to wipe out recreational fishing in a local lake or stream.
Lucas's order keeps alive the county's hope of blocking the controversial project, said Robert L. Felts, an assistant Tulare County counsel. State Fish and Game spokeswoman Peggy Blair said, "We still hope to go ahead with the project . . . but we'll have to wait and see what our attorneys and what the (Supreme) Court does."