Cleanup under way at site of massive fish kill

SCHURZ, Nev. - A cleanup of thousands of dead fish is under way at a northern Nevada reservoir plagued by low water supplies.

Bureau of Indian Affairs workers began the unpleasant task Tuesday at Weber Reservoir, said Jon McMasters, a water resources specialist for the Walker River Paiute Tribe.

''It's pretty slow and it's not something you would want to do every day,'' McMasters told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Schurz farmer Harold Miller agreed: ''We're going to be in a tough predicament. The smell's going to be around for awhile.''

The fish began dying Aug. 12 after the reservoir's water levels dropped due to a combination of mistakes.

Walker River's water master mistakenly released too little water to meet the tribe's entitlement at the reservoir.

Unaware of the drop in inflow, the BIA continued regular releases of water from the reservoir until water levels dropped too low for the fish to survive. The bureau manages the reservoir.

Catfish, perch, carp and trout were killed at the reservoir, located 16 miles upstream from Walker Lake near Hawthorne.

''My best guess is it killed about 200 truckloads of fish - maybe about 100,000 fish in all,'' Miller said. ''Now, we'll have to replant the fish.''

Most of the dead fish were flushed from the reservoir to a tribal alfalfa field about 10 miles below. The carcasses will be buried there for use as fertilizer, Miller said.

Meanwhile, local farmers still anxiously await the arrival of irrigation water from the reservoir.

All downstream irrigation stopped when the BIA closed the outflow gates to raise reservoir levels and save remaining fish.

About 2,100 acres of farmland cannot be irrigated and 2,500 cattle are without normal drinking water supplies.

''We need the irrigation water desperately,'' Miller said. ''We're not getting upstream water and it's the water master's fault.''

The tribe's water board is set to discuss the situation at a meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.

On Aug. 15, the tribal council declared an economic and natural resource disaster on the reservation and blamed the BIA for it.

Tribal leaders attribute most of the blame to the BIA's recent requirement that reservoir storage be limited to a third of maximum capacity due to dam safety concerns.

The Weber Dam, built in 1934, is leaking and engineers fear it could collapse in the event of an earthquake. The earth-fill dam is located on an earthquake fault.


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