None of us wants to see dams on our trout rivers. They interfere with the natural movement of fish and their prey and bury stream mileage under millions of tons of water.
Still, we must admit that some dams improve the fishing downstream. The water at the bottom of man-made lakes tends to be clear and cold, just the way trout like it. Most dams are designed to release some of this water to restore, at least partially, the rivers they interrupt.
This is especially true of New York City’s reservoirs in the Catskill Mountains, where world-famous trout fisheries have developed downstream of the impoundments. A glaring exception, however, has been Schoharie Creek below the city’s Schoharie Reservoir. This part of the creek flows only when the reservoir overflows. The rest of the time, it’s dry as a bone.
An organization called Dam Concerned Citizens Inc. hopes to change that. New York City is about to undertake a six-year project to reconstruct the dam, and the Concerned Citizens want the new dam to provide for a steady release of 50-75 cubic feet per second back to the Schoharie.
Further downstream, where tributaries begin to reconstitute the Schoharie’s flow, trout are known to live, said Howard R. Bartholomew, a member of Dam Concerned Citizens’ board of directors and 30-year Trout Unlimited member. The “conservation release” from the new dam would give those trout access to the now-dry creek upstream and create a great new public resource for fishing, studying or just plain enjoying.
The group notes the land along this stretch of the creek is designated “forever wild,” and there’s even an old town road that provides pedestrian access.
This isn’t a brand-new idea. Ed August of Schoharie, a longtime community development organizer in Schenectady and active member of the Clearwater Chapter of Trout Unlimited, pushed for a release from Schoharie Reservoir a decade ago. August didn’t have much luck, at least in part because New York City and Trout Unlimited were fighting in court over the way the city used Esopus Creek, 18 miles away, to help carry Schoharie Reservoir water to the Big Apple.
The Esopus complicates the situation a little. Ironically, Schoharie Creek doesn’t benefit from the impoundment of its own water, but the Esopus does. Schoharie Reservoir water is piped underground to the Esopus. It then flows 11 miles down the creek to another New York City reservoir on the Esopus itself. There’s great trout habitat along those 11 miles, thanks to the cool Schoharie water. (That water used to be muddy sometimes. That’s what the TU lawsuit was about. The city did some dredging during emergency repairs to the Schoharie dam in 2006, and today the water is much cleaner.)
Bartholomew says the small release being requested for the Schoharie Creek won’t diminish the amount of Schoharie water that flows down the Esopus.
“It is our reasonable expectation that accommodation of the conservation release we are requesting can be made without undue difficulty and at no expense to either the quantity or quality of water transferred from the Schoharie Reservoir, via the Shandaken Tunnel, into the Esopus Creek,” he said.
I think a conservation release for Schoharie Creek was a great idea 10 years ago, and it’s still a great idea — and the dam construction is the perfect opportunity to make it a reality.