State wildlife officials have temporarily halted putting trout in the Lower Illinois River near Gore.
The Lower Illinois River is one of Oklahoma’s two year-round trout fisheries, but Tuesday was the last day the river will receive any hatchery-raised trout until water issues are resolved, said Gene Gilliland, assistant chief of fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“An act of God or an act of Congress. That’s what we need,” Gilliland said.
Both water quality and water quantity are issues, Gilliland said. Without regular releases of water from Lake Tenkiller, the river gets low and oxygen levels drop to lethal levels. State wildlife officials don’t want to add trout in the river if they are not going to live.
More rain and cooler weather would improve both. That’s the act of God, who most certainly will act more quickly than Congress ever will to solve the water woes for the Lower Illinois trout fishery.
On Oklahoma’s other year-round trout stream, the Lower Mountain Fork River in McCurtain County, the Wildlife Department is allocated water from Broken Bow Lake when needed to sustain the trout fishery.
But the agency is not entitled to any of the water stored in Lake Tenkiller to keep the trout fishing going in the Lower Illinois River. It’s all allocated for hydropower or municipal and industrial water supply.
The Wildlife Department trout stream has gotten by on a leak in the Tenkiller dam’s sluice gate that kept a small but steady stream of water in the river. But that leak has been repaired.
“Fixing the sluice gate has cost that river its life,” said Scott Hood, president of the Oklahoma Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “When they are not generating, there is not water for that river and that’s wrong.”
State wildlife officials have been borrowing water allocated to Sequoyah Fuels, but they have used all of that water to keep the stream flowing through the summer drought when there was no hydropower generation.
Cold water is released into the river when the Southwestern Power Administration is generating hydroelectric power, but that fluctuates based on power demands.
Gilliland said a solution must be found if a trout fishery is to continue in the Lower Illinois River.
“It goes back to the root problem,” Gilliland said. “All of the water in Tenkiller is allocated to somebody else.”
It would take an act of Congress to ensure that some water stored in Tenkiller Lake is allocated for the trout stream. Trout Unlimited members in Oklahoma have been lobbying for that with no success.
“It’s just amazing to me we can be in this kind of predicament,” Hood said. “Oxygen content doesn’t mean diddly squat if you don’t have water. The answer is minimum flow. The only people who can make that happen is Congress.”
Hood said Trout Unlimited chapters will continue to urge Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation to act to keep the river flowing.
“Gore has built itself as the trout capital of Oklahoma,” said Chuck Kaminski, secretary of the 89er Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “I would hate to see that go away.”