Hope springs on two fronts that fishermen, distraught over the devastation of the Bridgeport Reservoir and East Walker River last fall, may soon reach accord with the Nevada farmers who took their water and ran the two prime big-fish fisheries dry.
The reservoir "was pretty well wiped out," recalled California Trout president Richard May. "It was just a mud puddle."
And silting from the outflow finished off the fish in the first couple of miles below the dam that once was a prime fishery.
The Walker River Irrigation District claimed it owned the water, as well as the dam, and had every right to take it.
"But those rights are a little shaky," May said. "We have this complaint pending before the California State Water Board that we filed last fall when we were unable to stop the draining of the reservoir . . . (that their) storage rights, under California law, were faulted, and that their permits and licenses had to be re-ordered to be legal and proper."
Also, the way the water was taken was illegal, charged Stan Eller, Mono County district attorney.
In an action apart from CalTrout's, Eller recently filed criminal complaints against the district citing three violations of the State Department of Fish and Game code.
Rick Rockel of Bridgeport, CalTrout's appointed stream keeper for the East Walker, said the case could establish that laws were broken and prevent a similar disaster.
"Historically, these laws basically are not really enforced," Rockel said.
Meanwhile, CalTrout has met with the irrigation district to discuss an interim agreement for this year and a long-term solution to the problem, satisfying the conflicting interests of both sides.
"It looked encouraging to me in the two meetings we've had so far," May said.
Most encouraging was that the irrigation district had hired Entrix Inc. of Walnut Creek, Calif., a respected fisheries and engineering consultant that CalTrout has used for projects on Hot Creek and Yellow Creek.
The key issue is anchor ice forming from the bottom up, damaging young fish.
May said: "We want to get some improvement in the winter flows . . . let more water go during the wintertime to prevent the anchor ice from forming in the stream. The wish of the irrigation district is to save as much of that water as possible (for later in the year)."
The DFG has begun restocking the reservoir with legal size rainbow trout, but Rockel said that whatever of those fish aren't caught will die when the water disappears, so either way they're doomed, and the survivors downstream will perish when new flows bring down more silt this spring.
The ultimate solution, May said, is to establish a minimum pool in the reservoir.
"We certainly can have radishes, onions, garlic and trout, too," he said.
In a similar matter, DFG warden Don Jacobs discovered two weeks ago that when the dike of a settling pond broke at the Burney Forest Products plant in eastern Shasta County, Canyon Creek and an adjacent meadow were inundated with mud and silt.
According to the DFG, the creek and wetlands support trout, bass, bluegill and river otters, and the meadow is a seasonal home for ducks, geese, songbirds and an occasional bald eagle.
The company, a combination sawmill and wood-chip power generation facility, was fined $1,900 last August for dewatering Canyon Creek and killing an estimated 600 trout.
Reminders from the Department of Fish and Game: First-time hunters must enroll in a mandatory hunter-safety course before the June 26 deadline to be eligible to apply for special hunts. . . . Grunion are out of season in April and May but may next be observed spawning on Southern California beaches April 7 starting at 10:45 p.m. The next legal season starts the night of June 5 at 12:45 a.m. . . . The 15th annual Marina del Rey Halibut Derby, held last weekend in the Santa Monica Bay, was won by Don Crisp of Lancaster, who caught a tournament-record 42.86-pound halibut.