Iconic trout can access historic spawning grounds

New fish passage to open natural migration route after more than a century

a large fish being held.

An angler holds a freshly-caught Pilot Peak Lahontan cutthroat trout at Pyramid Lake. Courtesy photo by Greg Ritland


By Joanna Gilkeson
October 23, 2020

Just one year after celebrating the Derby Dam groundbreaking ceremony, the state-of-the-art fish screen is ready and waiting to help Lahontan cutthroat trout travel from Pyramid lake to their spawning grounds above the dam.

a group of people standing on the edge of a water raceway.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service California Great Basin regional director Paul Souza and Dan Mosely, fisheries director for Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe stand along the newly installed horizontal fish screen at Derby Dam at the fish screen commissioning on September 30. Credit: Bureau of Reclamation

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is thrilled to finally have the Derby Dam fish screen completed,” said Service California Great Basin regional director Paul Souza. “The addition of this fish screen to the existing water infrastructure will allow the iconic Lahontan cutthroat trout to once again travel beyond the dam and complete its natural migration route for the first time in more than a century.”

The completion of the fish screen is the result of two decades of concentrated efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Fish Hatchery Complex, Bureau of Reclamation and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe to restore connectivity for the federally threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout.

Derby Dam was completed in 1905 to divert water from the Truckee River to agricultural fields in the Carson Basin. The dam blocked Lahontan cutthroat trout from being able to access their historic spawning grounds in the upper Truckee River. As a result, the trout could not complete their lifecycle and they were extirpated from Pyramid Lake by the 1930s.

Recognizing the importance of connectivity to recover this native trout, the Bureau of Reclamation, in partnership with Lahontan National Fish Hatchery and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, funded, designed and constructed a fish bypass structure at Derby Dam in 2005. However, the fish bypass structure was never used due to the lack of a fish screen along the Derby Canal that would prevent returning adults or downstream-moving juveniles from becoming stuck in the larger diversion canal.

manmade cement waterways with water in them.

The Derby Dam fish screen along the Truckee River near Sparks, Nevada, will allow Lahontan cutthroat trout to safely travel from Pyramid Lake to their historic spawning grounds above Derby Dam for the first time in over a century. Credit: Bureau of Reclamation

In 2018, Reclamation entered into a cooperative agreement with Farmers Conservation Alliance to design, construct and commission a horizontal fish screen to allow fish to safely travel past Derby Dam. The Service’s National Fish Passage Program also provided key resources to complete the Derby Dam fish screen. The construction project began in September 2019 and supported nearly 400 jobs over the past few years.

five people pose for a photo.

Reclamation’s California-Great Basin regional director Ernest Conant, Service California Great-Basin region director Paul Souza, Pyramid Lake Paiute tribal chairman Anthony Sampson Jr., Farmers Conservation Alliance executive director Julie O’Shea and Reclamation commissioner Brenda Burman, safely celebrate the commissioning of the Derby Dam fish screen along the Truckee River on Septmeber 30. Credit: Bureau of Reclamation

“Modernizing our infrastructure is a top priority for Reclamation,” said Bureau of Reclamation commissioner Brenda Burman. “Updating the 115-year old Derby Dam with the nation’s largest horizontal fish screen is especially exciting. Not only will the project provide new fish passage for the Lahontan cutthroat trout to reach native spawning grounds, it also provides new efficiencies for dam operations and deliveries--a true win-win. I know how meaningful this project is to the local community and our partners; we are pleased that all the pieces aligned so nicely to accommodate the completion of construction in one year's time. A big thank you and congratulations to all of our partners for achieving this great milestone.”

On September 30, Souza, Burman, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribal Chairman Anthony Sampson Jr. and Julie O’Shea executive director for Farmers Conservation Alliance, were on-site to safely celebrate the commissioning of the fish screen.

“Not only is this a significant step forward in the recovery of this species, but the passage of Lahontan cutthroat trout above Derby Dam will re-establish this unique recreational angling opportunity for the Reno/Sparks area. I want to thank our partners, the Bureau of Reclamation, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and Farmers Conservation Alliance, for their commitment to making this fish screen a reality,” said Souza.

a man standing in water fishing.

Doug Ouellette, a Truckee River fishing guide, casts a fly out into the Truckee River. Credit: Dan Hottle/USFWS

The Truckee River system is in the third most fished water system in Nevada and an internationally recognized fishery. The addition of the fish screen enhances recreation opportunities for anglers and others, as hundreds or even thousands of large fish, up to 25-pounds, could pass through the Truckee River in Reno and Sparks to spawn annually. The upgraded infrastructure also improves operations for the Truckee Carson Irrigation District and will ensure water delivery is more efficient.

“This is our largest installation to date and the 50th screen we have installed across seven western states,” said O’Shea. “Seeing our technology help to realize the vision shared by Reclamation, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe to improve fish movement on the Truckee River is the reason we invented the screen in the first place. For a project of this size to be completed in just 12 months speaks to the dedication of not only our project team, but also on the ground partners like the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District.”

a large fish being held.

Lahontan cutthroat trout at Pyramid Lake. Credit: USFWS

The Lahontan cutthroat trout is Nevada’s state fish. It depends on a rare terminal lake ecosystem in the Truckee River Basin. This species was the top predator in the Tahoe and Pyramid Lake corridor. Once thought to be extinct, the strain of the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout originally inhabiting Pyramid Lake was rediscovered in Utah. These genetics now serve as the basis for restoration of the large-sized, long-lived fish that are sought after by anglers in Pyramid Lake today.

“When the fry return back down the river, they’ll have access down into the lower river, and then into Pyramid Lake,” said Dan Mosely, fisheries director for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. “We’re connected to these fish and it is important for us to see this fish return to their historical spawning ground.”

 

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Joanna Gilkeson

About the writer...

Joanna Gilkeson is a public affairs specialist in the Reno Fish and Wildlife Office in Nevada. She writes about the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and serves as the communications team leader for the Service's monarch butterfly project in the west.

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