Phoenix Staff Writer
A project expected to provide a temporary fix to protect the trout fishery in the lower Illinois River is on track for completion by early February.
The project includes the installation of a special low-flow pipe from an existing surge tank located at the dam. A super-saturated dissolved oxygen system will be installed below the dam.
These two systems, along with multi-agency cooperation, were designed to offset the loss of fresh water that used to leak into the river before gates at Tenkiller Lake Dam were repaired. Anglers and wildlife officials hope the temporary fix will sustain the lower Illinois River trout fishery, which contributes an estimated $4 million or more annually to the local economy.
Ross Adkins, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the low-flow piping system should be completed by Jan. 29. Completion of the super-saturated dissolved oxygen system will be delayed due to changes concerning the unit’s power supply.
“The super-saturated dissolved oxygen has been delayed due to the need to providing power in a different manner,” Adkins said. “They are awaiting a redesign of the power supply system, but final delivery and installation of that system should be completed in early February.”
The idea for the projects now under way was spawned after two fish kills were reported in 2011. Without a constant flow of fresh water from Tenkiller Lake, water temperatures rise and threaten the fish in one of only two year-round trout fisheries in the state.
Because all the water impounded upstream from the Tenkiller Dam has been allocated for other uses, a permanent fix would require congressional action. Reallocating the water in Tenkiller Lake would also take time, which prompted plans for the current project.
Col. Michael Teague, commander of the Corps’ Tulsa District, said earlier this year the multi-agency efforts were instrumental in getting the project off the ground. Teague singled out Southwestern Power Administration and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for special recognition.
The two agencies are cooperating to implement solutions Corps officials say could not be accomplished by any single agency. SWPA covered the costs of the low-flow pipe and dissolved oxygen system, while the Corps performed the design, acquisition and contract management.
State wildlife officials will maintain and operate the dissolved oxygen system, monitor river conditions and request releases as needed from the low-flow pipe. Using funds donated by Trout Unlimited Oklahoma Chapter and Tulsa Fly Fishers, ODWC installed several gauging stations to help monitor river conditions.
Because there is no permanent water storage in Tenkiller Lake allocated to the trout fishery, releases will come from storage rights donated by the Sequoyah County Water Association, Tenkiller Utilities Authority and Lake Region Electric Development. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board also agreed to provide temporary water rights to the state wildlife department.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot