Unicoi Outfitters is north Georgia's premier guide service and fly fishing outfitter, located on the Chattahoochee River near alpine Helen. Look for fishing reports, gear and book reviews, and general musings here from our staff and guides.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Lake Blue Ridge Drawdown Threatens Toccoa River Trout

The online edition of The News Observer in Blue Ridge recently published this article.  Hopefully this publicity will help focus the attention of the TVA on the problem before it is too late.  

Water temperatures threaten trout

Thursday, August 12, 2010 1:56 PM CDT
John Damer warns of the dangers to Toccoa trout.
Trout fishing on the Toccoa River and its tributaries could be significantly impacted because of the drawdown of Lake Blue Ridge by the Tennessee Valley Authority to do repair work on the dam and its penstock.

At a Fannin County Chamber of Commerce meeting Wednesday, Aug. 11, Georgia Department of Natural Resources biologist John Damer expressed concerns about the possibility of a large fish kill as water temperatures rise in the river, especially the lower tailwaters.

After the meeting, Damer said the draw down is causing the temperature in the river to rise significantly and trout cannot survive at higher temperatures.

While uncertainty exists over how many trout could be killed, Damer said the worst case is that the fish kill could be significant.

“A water temperature of 22 degrees Celsius is stressful to trout,” Damer said. “When the temperature reaches 25 degrees Celsius and above, there will be a significant loss of trout.”

Wednesday, the temperature in the water temperature had reached 20.4 degrees Celsius coming out of the dam and 20.9 degrees Celsius in McCaysville, according to Damer.

Dan Forester warned TVA in a July 10, 2009, letter that starting the lake drawdown in mid-July could cause a fish kill because of rising temperatures. That letter was included in TVA’s Environmental Assessment of the project.

Forester wrote that starting the drawdown later, in early August, would lessen the stress factor on the trout in the river tailwaters and, while there would be a rise in water temperature, it would not be as much as it would be with a start for the drawdown in July.

Damer said TVA has to repair the dam, and it will stop any further need to do deep drawdowns, however with the water temperature rising, significant loss of trout is likely in the next few weeks due to the swiftness of the drawdown.

In a message to a Blue Ridge Trout Unlimited official, posted on the Internet, Damer said the only option readily apparent to DNR is to slow or halt the drawdown until cooler temperatures resume.

Fannin County Chamber of Commerce President Jan Hackett requested in a letter to TVA officials Thursday that, while the work on the dam is absolutely necessary, TVA do everything in its power to help avoid a terrible loss of trout.

“While the hot weather is beyond TVA’s control, a large-scale fish kill would be a tragedy beyond imagination,” Hackett wrote.

She said tourism is maintaining the Fannin community in the midst of the great recession. However, “we cannot afford to lose both our lake and the trout population in the tailwaters, which are fished year-round.”

TVA spokesman Travis Brickey said Thursday that TVA monitors the temperature in the Toccoa River daily and so far there have not been any reports of loss of fish.

“We understand the local concerns, however, water temperatures all across the TVA reservoir system are very hot,” Brickey said.

A meeting between TVA officials and biologists with the Georgia DNR was scheduled for late Thursday about the water temperature concerns in relation to the drawdown, Brickey said.

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