Esopus Turbidity May Not Be Bad for Trout After All

Daily Gazette article
Thursday, February 9, 2012

By Morgan Lyle
Twelve years ago, Trout Unlimited sued New York City for polluting Esopus Creek, the ruggedly beautiful wild rainbow stream in the eastern Catskills, with silt from Schoharie Reservoir.

The city uses the Esopus in an unusual way — as an aqueduct of sorts. Water is piped from Schoharie Reservoir 18 miles to the Esopus, which then carries the Schoharie water another 10 miles downstream to Ashokan Reservoir. From there, the water is piped to the Big Apple.

This arrangement has both positives and negatives for trout fishermen on this 10-mile stretch of the Esopus.

Negative: The water from Schoharie tends to be laden with silt that washes into the reservoir. Since the pipeline came online in 1924, the Esopus has run kind of milky much of the time.

Positive: the creek has also been nice and cool. The water from the tunnel is collected at the bottom of Schoharie Reservoir, where it is coldest, and the infusion of this water has kept the Esopus in good shape, temperature-wise, while other streams in the region were getting bony and warm in mid-summer. Cold water is good for trout.

By 2000, TU had decided the Schoharie sed­iment was getting out of hand and took the city to U.S. District Court. The judge agreed in 2003, finding the city in violation of the Clean Water Act. He leveled a $5 million fine and demanded the city clean up the water flowing out of the Shandaken Tunnel.

Nine years later, no action has been taken to reduce the turbidity. Now, a new study by a Cornell University graduate student indicates the turbidity is doing no harm — at least not to full-grown trout.

T.J. Ross and his technicians studied stocked brown trout equipped with transmitters in the summers of 2009, 2010 and 2011 and found that trout stationed just below the outfall of the Shandaken Tunnel — a spot known locally as the Portal — had better blood chemistry and better growth rates than trout stocked upstream of the portal and those stocked way downstream, near Ashokan Reservoir.

The Portal is where the creek is most turbid — but also coolest.

“The turbidity that we see in the Esopus is not at the level where you see significant problems,” Ross told a group of about 60 people at SUNY Ulster in Stone Ridge, Ulster County on Feb.

Importantly, however, Ross’s study did not examine the impact of turbidity on trout eggs and fry, nor on the aquatic insects trout eat. Other studies by state and federal agencies are examining those questions, he said.

BAMBOO ROD MAKING AT EXPO

Doug Moody of Broadalbin has made lots of fans playing fiddle for the McKrells and Popa Chubby. He’ll likely make some more for another skill — bamboo fly-rod making — at the Adirondack Outdoorsman Show in Johnstown Feb. 18-19.

Bamboo fly rods can only be made by hand. It’s a painstaking process of high-level craftsmanship. It’s fascinating to observe, and the resulting fly rods are exquisite fishing tools, responsive and alive in a way that no rod constructed of man-made materials could ever be. Or, at least, most fly-fishers think so.

Moody will show how it’s done at the Outdoorsman Show. He launched Bark Eater Bamboo in 2006, and has been hand-planing rods at his Hans Creek Road home ever since. He was the subject of a profile in The Daily Gazette in June 2009.

The Outdoorsman Show will be at the Johnstown Moose Lodge, Route 30A, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 18 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Feb. 19. Admission is: adults, $5; youths 15 and under, $1. For more information, visit www.adkshow.com or contact Mike Hauser at 725-5565.

Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at morganlyle@gmail.com.

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