Here, fishy, fishy…

Folks who live in Butte Creek canyon are blaming PG&E for 1,000 to 2,000 dead fish they’ve seen floating in the creek—victims, residents say, of insufficient water flows caused by PG&E’s De Sabla-Centerville power plant.

“They [PG&E] control the flume system here,” said Friends of Butte Creek spokesman Alan Harthorne. “Last year we lost 7,000 fish and it looks like we may push that again this year.”

The activists say PG&E is at fault for the death of the fish because the company drew water from two upstream reservoirs to pump through the turbines of the power plant. This routine water draw, they say, raised the temperature of the water to somewhere above 70 degrees, killing a large portion of the Spring Chinook salmon run.

“We’re overrun with carcasses up here. They’re full of maggots. It’s becoming a real water quality issue.”

PG&E spokeswoman Lisa Randle said PG&E is not to blame for the fishes’ deaths. “There are natural things that occur with fluctuations of water levels that cause temperatures to rise,” she said, noting that hot weather, lack of rain or snowfall, disease and other factors beyond the company’s control probably contributed to the fish kill.

But Harthorne and others say PG&E could do much more to regulate water flows in the creek. By the terms of their license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), PG&E is mandated to provide water flows of about 40 cubic feet per second, Harthorne said. That flow is usually enough to keep the water temperature below the critical 70 degrees, but with hot weather, the upstream reservoirs can sometimes have temperature fluctuations of their own, raising the temperature again. Harthorne called for PG&E to release more water.

“If we increase the flows, we have more fish,” he said.

PG&E is sensitive to the complaints right now because the company has just applied for a new FERC license for the plant. Environmental factors such as fish populations may cause FERC to ask for PG&E to provide further mitigation measures to protect them.

Randle said the company was studying the problem in conjunction with the state Fish and Game department and would take any recommendations seriously. "Rest assured, PG&E is not sitting idly by," she said. "Resource conservation is a strong ethic within this company."