Nevada dam changes give rare trout new life 115 years later

Oct 4, 2020, 2:31 PM
Trout restoration Utah Nevada...
Lahontan cutthroat trout recently caught at Pyramid Lake, 30 miles northeast of Reno, Nev. Federal and tribal officials are celebrating the completion of a $34 million fish bypass system at a Nevada dam that will allow the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout to return to some of its native spawning grounds for the first time in more than a century. (Greg Ritland/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP,File)
(Greg Ritland/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP,File)

WADSWORTH, Nev. (AP) — U.S. and tribal officials are celebrating completion of a $34 million fish bypass system at a Nevada dam that will allow a threatened trout species to return to some of its native spawning grounds for the first time in more than a century.

Construction of the side channel with fish-friendly screens is a major step toward someday enabling Lahontan cutthroat trout to make the same 100-mile (160-kilometer) journey — upstream from a desert lake on tribal land northeast of Reno to Lake Tahoe atop the Sierra — that they did before the dam was built in 1905.

“This is a great day for conservation,” said Paul Souza, the regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who said it wouldn’t have been possible without support from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.

“This is an iconic species. This project is going to help get it home,” he said at a ceremony Wednesday at Derby Dam on the Truckee River 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of Reno.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began reconfiguring the dam just a year ago in partnership with the USFWS, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and Farmers Conservation Alliance, a nonprofit group that developed the screens.

Brenda Burman, head of the bureau, said the quick work combined the alliance’s innovative technology with the service’s biological experience and the bureau’s engineering and construction expertise.

“And in the background, pushing and making sure this all happened, we had the relentlessness of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe to recover the fish that they hold sacred,” she said.

The largest trout in North America, Lahontan cutthroats grew as big as 60 pounds (27 kilograms) when they climbed 2,500 feet (762 meters) through mountain river canyons to Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada line, elevation 6,228 feet (1,898 meters).

In recent years, they’ve made their way several miles upstream from Pyramid Lake but haven’t been able to get past the 30-foot-high (9 meters) dam.

Commissioned by President Theodore Roosevelt, the dam was part of the first major irrigation system established in the West to “help make the desert bloom,” diverting water to farmers and ranchers in a region where only about 5 inches (12 centimeters) of rain falls annually.

The new bypass houses an 80-foot-wide (24 meters), 390-foot-long (118 meters) horizontal fish screen — actually a metal plate with slots that pushes water down through the water system while sending the fish and other debris through the side channel.

The Farmers Irrigation District of Hood River, Oregon, first developed the design after severe flooding in 1996. The district licensed the patent to the alliance, which since has completed 50 projects in seven Western states.

This one is the largest and the first commissioned by the Bureau of Reclamation.

“It is really amazing to think a year ago we stood here not knowing about pandemics, fires, all the challenges that would come up ahead of us. And yet we are all here today seeing these screens turn on,” said Julie O’Shea, the alliance’s executive director.

“It provides a spark of hope for future generations about what the possibilities are for restoration and recovery of a species.”

Tribal leaders and state and federal wildlife officials have been working for two decades to restore the fishery in Pyramid Lake — a remnant of ancient Lake Lahontan, an inland sea that covered 8,450 square miles (21,885 square kilometers) of western Nevada during the Ice Age.

The trout was thought to have gone extinct in the 1940s and was listed as threatened in 1970. But a remnant population later was discovered in a small brook along the Nevada-Utah border.

Cutthroat trout also are native to parts of Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

Tribal Chairman Anthony Sampson said the project is “safeguarding a precious resource of the tribe.”

“We have to be vigilant to protect and restore what God created for us,” Sampson said. “Everything we do has an impact on life — not just plant life, not just animal life, but all lives.”

Today’s Top Stories


In Iran, protests have led to violent clashes between citizens and security forces. Protesters pict...
The Associated Press

At least 9 killed as Iran protests over woman’s death spread

The scope of Iran's ongoing unrest, the worst in several years, still remains unclear as protesters in more than a dozen cities.
3 days ago
U.S. Capitol pictured. The House just voted on an election law...

House passes election law overhaul in response to Jan. 6

The bill, which is similar to bipartisan legislation moving through the Senate, would overhaul an arcane 1800s-era statute known as the Electoral Count Act
4 days ago
Trump pictured. A lawsuit against Trump was just filed in new york...
Associated Press

NY attorney general sues Donald Trump and his company

Attorney General Letitia James' lawsuit is the culmination of the Democrat's three-year civil investigation of Trump and the Trump Organization.
5 days ago
el helicoide caracas...

Surprise is key part of migrant travel from Florida, Texas

EDGARTOWN, Mass. (AP) — The chief executive of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services was wrapping up work when she looked outside to see 48 strangers at her office with luggage, backpacks and red folders that included brochures for her organization. The Venezuelan migrants who were flown to the wealthy Massachusetts island from San Antonio on Wednesday […]
7 days ago
school classrooms...
Collin Binkley Associated Press

Reading, math scores fell sharply during pandemic, data show

WASHINGTON (AP) — Math and reading scores for America’s 9-year-olds fell dramatically during the first two years of the pandemic, according to a new federal study — offering an early glimpse of the sheer magnitude of the learning setbacks dealt to the nation’s children. Reading scores saw their largest decrease in 30 years, while math […]
11 days ago
FILE - Roger Federer of Switzerland waves to spectators as he leaves the court after he lost to Ale...

Roger Federer says he is retiring from professional tennis

(AP) — Roger Federer announced Thursday that he is retiring from professional tennis at age 41 after winning 20 Grand Slam titles. This decision comes just days after the end of the U.S. Open, which is expected to be the last tournament of 23-time major champion Serena Williams’ career, and signals the real end of […]
11 days ago

Sponsored Articles

a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Nevada dam changes give rare trout new life 115 years later