Oklahoma’s Wildlife Director is urging the state’s congressional delegation to take action to protect the Lower Illinois trout fishery near Gore.
Richard Hatcher, director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, has asked Oklahoma’s senators and representatives to sponsor and pass federal legislation to ensure that the trout fishing stream will receive water from Tenkiller Lake when needed to keep fish alive.
Hatcher made the request this week in a letter addressed to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa. The letter to Inhofe was also mailed to U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, and Oklahoma’s five representatives.
“The ODWC (Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation) requests your assistance in finding a viable long-term solution including, if necessary, sponsoring and passing congressional legislation to provide sufficient water storage in Tenkiller Reservoir to protect fisheries resources in the Lower Illinois River,” Hatcher writes.
State wildlife officials stopped stocking trout in the river for several weeks last year because of the lack of water releases from Tenkiller Lake. Many fish, both hatchery-raised trout and native species, died in the Lower Illinois River last year because of low dissolved oxygen levels in the water.
The Lower Illinois River is one of two year-round trout streams in the state. The Lower Mountain Fork River in McCurtain County is the other. That trout stream is entitled to water releases from Broken Bow Lake when necessary to ensure fishing opportunities are year-round.
The Wildlife Department has permanent water rights to sustain the Lower Mountain Fork River trout fishery through federal legislation.
Below is a copy of Hatcher’s letter to Oklahoma’s congressional delegation.
Dear Senator Inhofe:
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) has been directed by its governing body, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, to seek solutions to water allocation issues currently impairing fisheries resources in the lower Illinois River in eastern Oklahoma.
As we have discussed with members of your staff, dissolved oxygen levels in the lower Illinois River are often well below state standards. Based on numerous studies, it is believed the lack of sufficient water releases from Tenkiller Dam contributes to the low dissolved oxygen levels resulting in numerous native fish species and trout being killed.
We have asked for cooperation from all interested parties, including the Tulsa District Corps of Engineers and the Southwestern Power Administration to assist in achieving a solution to this serious problem. The ODWC continues to work with these agencies on short term solutions.
It is also critical to begin the process of securing long-term solutions to protect these valuable fisheries resources. We believe an automated piping system at the Tenkiller Dam could provide a minimum sustained flow of water necessary to raise oxygen levels in the lower Illinois River to a satisfactory level.
Engineering plans for such a piping system have already been prepared. However, no water stored in Tenkiller Reservoir is currently allocated for this purpose.
The ODWC requests your assistance in finding a viable long-term solution including, if necessary, sponsoring and passing congressional legislation to provide sufficient water storage in Tenkiller Reservoir to protect fisheries resources in the lower Illinois River.