Bull trout re-introduction to tributaries raises concerns of some on the Watershed Planning Unit

by Richard Uhlhorn

Last week’s Watershed Planning Unit meeting had some good news, challenging new and potentially bad news.

The bad news is the potential re-introduction of Bull Trout into the Lake Chelan tributary system. Bull trout have been extinct in the lake since sometimes in the fifties. No one knows what killed off the species that were the backbone of a thriving commercial fishery on the lake.

The decision will probably not be made until next year.

Resident Russ Jones remarked that one possibility of the trout’s disappearance was the introduction of a virus from a hatchery planting of Chinook salmon. “Has anyone even looked to see if a virus is still present in the lake,” he asked.

Phil Long – Lake Chelan Research Institute, told the researchers that they should talk to local fishing guide Joe Heinlen. Heinlen is a local expert on fish and its history on Lake Chelan.

Twelve tributaries are being investigated with tributaries feeding the Stehekin River and Prince Creek amongst the potential areas.

Joe Benjamin -U.S. Geological Survey, is the primary investigator in the potential re-introduction of Bull trout to Lake Chelan tributaries. The project is being funded by the National Park Service and the National Resources Preservation Program. “This should be transparent and affected by decisions,” said Benjamin. “We are looking at how species fit together.”

Mike Kaputa -Chelan County Natural Resources director, said, “There is a lot of interest in this. We all want an open and transparent process.”

Long added that Heinlen has strong opinions about fisheries on the lake. “He makes his living fishing on the lake,” Long. Heinlen has been vocal about Bull trout in the past and has said that any introduction of the species in the Lake Chelan Valley’s tributaries would ruin current recreational fishing in those streams. He also worries about potential migration to the lake.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” said Benjamin. Kaputa remarked that the proposed Grizzly bear reintroduction has a lot of opposition. Bull trout are an endangered species and Kaputa said, “There would be a lot of regulations regarding their introduction and a lot of concern about it.”

Kaputa went on and asked Benjamin to describe what the future program would look like. Benjamin replied that the question is whether they want to reintroduce Bull trout or not.

Benjamin stated that they are looking at impacts on other fish populations. “It is a three year project and we are pretty close to finalizing where to put Bull trout. The final results will be available next year,” he said. He also remarked that that impacts on landowners are also being considered regarding adding a predator to the system.

Other watershed news of note:

Department of Ecology’s Candis Graff announced her retirement from Ecology May 25. Graff has been at the forefront of water permitting and the new program to process them efficiently. She was not sure who would be replacing her.

Chelan County Resources director Mike Kaputa said the new water code was going very smoothly and that they are close to finishing a grant on water banking. “It will give us more tools to move water around,” said Kaputa. “We are continuing to explore how to provide water across the county.”

Phil Long, director of the Lake Chelan Research Institute brought up the subject of River Otters in the Lake Chelan Watershed. “They seem to be everywhere in the lake,” he said. The otters food chain includes freshwater mussels (maybe Asian clams), fish, crayfish, amphibians, aquatic beetles, birds, bird eggs, fish eggs and small mammals.

Two River Otters were playing on a snow covered dock in Manson Bay this winter. Photo by Vicki Downey

The Institute began water sampling this week for phosphorus and chlorophyll In addition the Institute will be taking near shore surface water temperatures.

The Institute is conducting a “goose poop” study with $600 that has been donated for that purpose from Campbell’s, the Lookout and Lakeside Lodge and Suites. Goose poop is not only a messy onshore situation, but is thought to be one of the main contributors to algae growth along the lake shore along with phosphorus loading from lawn fertilizers.

Long mentioned the Woodin Avenue stormwater drain which needs to be filtered to keep stormwater runoff from entering the Chelan River just west of Chelan’s water intake.

 The sand barrier on the west side of the Three Fingers is also of concern. Geese and ducks are using the area and polluting the trapped water with leavings. The question is whether or not to mitigate the issue by modifying it or removing the spit altogether.

Another issue on the Lake is personal watercraft wakes that are creating erosion of the shoreline. According to Long this issue needs to be monitored.

Kaputa mentioned the DDT project in Lake Chelan and said the EPA is looking at a bigger picture with a Columbia River Restoration Working Group. The group is collecting data on toxins such as DDT and PCBs. “They are sampling 440 miles up river,” said Kaputa. “They are finding toxin levels 10 times lower than downstream.”

Lake Chelan has a DDT issue also and studies will be conducted on Stinky Creek at Harmony Meadows. DDT seems to be coming out of orchard drains.

Lisa Dowling reported that water craft inspections will be taking place from May to October. “We are in the process of recruiting four AIS watercraft inspectors,” said Dowling. The program will rotate mobile trailers between high use marinas. Neighborhood inspections will also be offered for local boaters.

Dowling also stated that the City of Chelan is getting a waterless wash station at its Lakeshore Marina. “The county will help the marina where it is situated. It is a top of the line unit and will be free of operational expenses for its first year of operation.”

As the Lake Chelan Research Institute expands water quality research on Lake Chelan, there are funding gaps that need to be addressed.

On Saturday, March 25 there will be a beach cleanup starting at Chelan’s Lakeshore Marina from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The effort will include weeding aquatic invasive species for removal from the lake bottom.

If you have questions and/or are interested in becoming involved in the efforts to keep Lake Chelan Blue, the above contact information is current.

The removal of Woody Debris will be studied and the County will be looking at sites for removal.

Author: allthingslakechelan

I have been a journalist, photojournalist and reporter in the Lake Chelan Valley since 1988; first with the Wenatchee World, then 15 years at the Lake Chelan Mirror and another 12 years at GoLakeChelan. Currently, I am semi-retired but can't give up the media gig which is why I started All Things Lake Chelan blog. I also have two social media platforms; allthingslakechelan/facebook and lakechelansportsandrecration/facebook. I am also a professional photographer with many credits with major outlets around the world.

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