Fly-Fishing: Change could affect Esopus Creek

Esopus Creek in the Catskills was New York’s original tailwater.

Esopus Creek in the Catskills was New York’s original tailwater. It was the first stream to blossom as a trout fishery because of the influence on its habitat of cold water impounded by New York City.

Now, the city is planning changes on the impoundment that supplies the cold water — Schoharie Reservoir. And there is real concern that what the city has in mind will end the Esopus’ 88-year run as a cool-water haven for wild rainbow trout.

Since 1927, Schoharie Reservoir has collected water behind Gilboa Dam on Schoharie Creek. The water has been sent to the Esopus through an 18-mile underground pipeline. The Esopus then carries the water 11 miles downstream to its own impoundment, Ashokan Reservoir.

Water temperatures in that 11-mile stretch usually stay cooler than undammed streams, allowing a population of wild trout to thrive.

Now, as part of its repairs to Gilboa Dam, the city plans to install a valve that will release cold water downstream to Schoharie Creek — water that at present goes to the Esopus.

The city’s Department of Environmental Protection said sending water down the Schoharie will “improve habitat conditions for smallmouth bass, brown trout, certain birds and macroinvertebrates by providing additional water to Schoharie Creek and by reducing the creek’s temperature.”

The DEP also claims it can re-water the Schoharie “without significantly reducing the amount of cold water available for required diversions through the Shandaken Tunnel and into the Esopus Creek.”

At the same time — in the same news release, in fact — the city acknowledged that the Esopus would pay a price: “DEP’s study found that implementation of these release programs at Schoharie Reservoir would potentially decrease the volume of cold water in the reservoir during late summer and fall, and increase the number of days that water diverted to the Esopus Creek would potentially exceed 70 degrees.”

Advocates have been after the city to improve, not degrade, releases from Schoharie Reservoir to Esopus Creek for decades. Trout Unlimited won a federal lawsuit over the amount of silt in the water, and as a result, the city had to get what’s known as a SPEDES permit for its pipeline, the same kind of permit you need to operate a wastewater treatment plant.

That permit says the city isn’t supposed to release water to the Esopus that’s warmer than 70 degrees. Now, the city is asking for permission from the state to do exactly that.

Not surprisingly, the Ashokan-Pepacton Watershed chapter of Trout Unlimited is alarmed.

“If [state Department of Environmental Conservation] allows DEP to discharge water at 70 degrees and warmer, water temperatures [downstream] at Coldbrook will reach and exceed 80 degrees, destroying a wild trout stream,” the chapter states in its presentation on the plan.

New York City’s news release includes statements of support from Rep. Chris Gibson, state Sen. James L. Seward, Assemblyman Pete Lopez and Richard Lape, chairman of the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors.

I really hope Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s DEC will disregard the statements by elected officials who like this idea and instead decide to defend the trout of the Esopus Creek.

No offense to the Schoharie; it’s a beautiful river that supports a great warmwater fishery downstream. It does seem unfair that a creek in another valley 18 miles away benefits from its water.

But a valve in the Schoharie’s dam would be at best a marginal improvement in the two miles of Schoharie Creek between the reservoir and the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Project.

The Esopus has been a beloved trout stream for generations. That’s where the water should go.

Categories: Sports

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