Oklahoma: Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Introduces Science-Based Bill to Benefit Trout Fishery

By Chris Horton, Midwestern States Senior Director

On January 16, Oklahoma Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Representative Jim Grego pre-filed a bill that would require the development of scientifically-established, beneficial instream flows in Oklahoma.

If enacted, this bill may address a significant problem with the lack of necessary flows to sustain trout populations in the Tenkiller Reservoir tailwater.

The Tenkiller Reservoir was constructed and is owned by the United States Army Corps of Engineers primarily for hydropower and flood control purposes. The Southwest Power Administration controls the releases from the reservoir and has the vast majority of the water behind the dam in the lake’s “power pool” allocated for hydropower production. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board permits the use of specific quantities of the remaining water in the “conservation pool elevation” to various municipalities. However, currently no water storage in Tenkiller is allocated to beneficial instream flows for fish and wildlife downstream in the Illinois River.

Late in the summer of 2018, the drought in the region caused the lake levels to drop well into the conservation pool elevation. Although the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation was able to borrow some water allocation from other permit holders, that water eventually ran out. At times, the Illinois River below the dam ceased to flow, resulting in increased water temperatures and falling dissolved oxygen levels that were critically close to causing a fish kill for the entire trout population in the river. This scenario has historically repeated itself in drought years, and fish kills have occurred.

Establishing a requirement for instream flows below the dam during drought years and when the Southwest Power Administration was not generating hydropower would help to ensure that water temperatures and dissolved oxygen during the hottest months of the summer remained within acceptable limits for a viable trout fishery.

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