Anglers will try to save fish during Painted Rocks Dam repairs
When repairs to the 75-year-old Painted Rocks Reservoir Dam restart in October, a small army of anglers may be waiting downstream to help save a few trout.
The repairs planned for this fall are a continuation of those that began last spring to the dam’s outlet tunnel and main gate, and which required flows to the West Fork of the Bitterroot River to be shut down for several hours.
Some fishermen expressed concern at the low water last spring and its potential impact on the popular trout fishery.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials are now reaching out to local sportsmen’s groups to see if there is any interest in using volunteers to attempt to save fish that could become stranded during low water this fall.
The repairs are part of routine maintenance on the aging structure.
“We’ve done repairs to the structure periodically over the years,” said Larry Schock, regional engineer for the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. “It’s a dam that was built in 1936. Stuff wears out. You have to maintain it.”
Workers hoping to repair eroding concrete inside the tunnel and adjust the gate to ensure a tight seal last spring ran into an issue of extremely cold temperatures that didn’t mesh well with the material being used to fix the structure.
“It was so cold inside the tunnel that the product we were using wouldn’t adhere to the old concrete,” Schock said.
After some additional research, the workers will return on Oct. 8 and 9 with a new material and hopefully some warmer temperatures to attempt to complete the repair.
The plan calls for dropping the amount of water being released by the dam by half on the day before the repairs, in hopes that whatever fish are just downstream from the dam will seek out deeper pools or move further downstream.
Then the dam’s outlet will be shut down for four hours each on Oct. 8 and 9 while repairs are being made.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologist Chris Clancy will work with any sportsman interested in trying to save trout that might be stranded between deeper pools.
“I’m not really sure how well it will work,” he said. “This isn’t like a creek that will go dry and stay dry. We’ll have to decide which fish to catch and move.”
“We’ll be learning on the fly,” Clancy said. “We’ll probably figure it out the first day and do a lot better the next day.”
Clancy also plans to install a few simple gauges along the stretch of river between the dam and Nez Perce Creek in an attempt to learn about the impacts groundwater may have in maintaining flows during the drawdown.
The data he collects could be helpful in deciding how to manage future maintenance events at the dam.
People wanting to learn more about the upcoming maintenance project and proposed fish capture can attend a meeting hosted by the DNRC on Thursday, Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. at the Bitterroot River Inn and Conference Center in Hamilton.
Officials will be on hand to discuss the upcoming repair project.
For more information on the meeting, people can contact James P. Domino of DNRC’s state water projects bureau at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (406) 444-6622.
Clancy plans to attend the meeting. People interested in helping with the fish capture project can contact him there or call his office at 363-7169.