Another drought victim: trout

Fish that lure anglers to Gunpowder River put in danger as water warms

July 31, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's Gunpowder River is a nationally recognized destination for anglers, but its trout fishery is in danger of becoming a casualty of the drought gripping Maryland.

Temperatures in the river are rising as the water level of the Prettyboy Reservoir recedes -- threatening a devastating fish kill.

The reservoir's water is released into the Gunpowder so it can flow to Loch Raven Reservoir, which supplies the city and surrounding counties with drinking water. Water in the Prettyboy is warmer than usual now because it is so low.

State officials say they are taking steps to protect the fishery, but if the drought forces a choice between its needs and those of homes and factories, the trout are out of luck.

Situation growing worse

Department of Natural Resources officials say they have no firm estimate of how long Prettyboy can supply enough cool water to keep the fish healthy. But Wally Vait, proprietor of the On The Fly bait and tackle shop and a leading advocate for the fishery, is warning that the predicament on the Gunpowder is desperate.

"If things don't change immediately, we're going to run into a massive fish kill," Vait said. He said that if water consumption in the Baltimore area isn't curbed, temperatures in the river could reach dangerous levels for trout in five or six days.

Jay Boynton, president of the Maryland chapter of Trout Unlimited, agreed that the state is on the verge of losing a significant economic resource.

"It's a fishery that's getting to be so well-known it's pulling in fly fishermen from all over the country," he said.

Vait said the temperature of the water being drawn from the reservoir -- normally 55 to 60 degrees -- had risen two degrees in the past two days and stood at 64 yesterday. He said 72 degrees is considered lethal for brook and rainbow trout and 75 degrees for brown trout.

He charged that the Baltimore Public Works department is not taking adequate steps to curb water consumption and slow the flow of water out of the reservoir.

"It's the worst drought in 50 years, and the city is not under any water conservation action," Vait said. He called upon Gov. Parris N. Glendening to toughen the voluntary conservation request he issued Thursday and require the city to curb its water use.

Officials of the state Department of Natural Resources said they are aware of the problem on the Gunpowder and that they met with city water officials last week to work out a plan to keep cool water flowing into the stream.

Bob Lunsford, the state's director of freshwater fisheries, said city officials agreed to draw cooler water from deeper levels of the Prettyboy.

Matter of priorities

A city Public Works Department spokesman, Kurt Kocher, said the city is living up to that agreement. Lunsford said the state has no way of monitoring Baltimore's water flow, but said he has no reason to doubt city officials.

Susan O'Brien, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Department, said that if the drought continues, saving fish would not be the state's highest priority.

"It might get to the point where you're going to have to forgo the fishery for the health of the public and the needs of manufacturing," she said.

Lunsford said that if the fishery were lost, the state would move to restock the Gunpowder.

But according to Vait, it would take seven to eight years to reach a point where the trout population was capable of replenishing itself.

"It took a lot of people 30 years to get this fishery to where it is today, and it could go away in a couple of days," Vait said.

Pub Date: 7/31/99

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