In hot water

Idaho DEQ says temps are too warm for trout

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We like our fish cooked... But not before we catch them.

So all this sun lately is unfortunate.

Elevated water temperatures in North Idaho are creating potentially lethal environments for trout, according to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

Recent analyses show that nearly 900 miles of streams in Kootenai and Shoshone counties are heating up as high as 80 degrees Fahrenheit, confirmed Kajsa Stromberg, DEQ spokesperson.

"That's pretty warm even for people. So it's very warm for trout," Stromberg said.

Optimal water temperatures for cold-water trout are lower than 55 degrees in the spring, she added.

"I'd say its a pretty common issue, for the streams to exceed our criteria," Stromberg said.

The North Fork Coeur d'Alene River Sub basin is currently most affected by this sauna treatment, caused by excess sun exposure and lack of shade.

That's dangerous for cold-water trout like Westslope cutthroat trout, Stromberg said, the most common fish of the streams.

If the heat persists, they will suffer more illnesses and potentially die, Stromberg said.

"Trout are very sensitive to warm water temperatures," Stromberg said.

Besides disrupting the area's ecosystem, losing the fish would disappoint a lot of people, too.

"They're a very popular fishery. Very popular with the anglers," Stromberg said of the streams. "And for a lot of people, just the fact that they're out there is important. They're really beautiful."

The DEQ has a plan.

Add more shade.

The agency is currently collecting public comment on a proposed plan to address the high sub basin temperatures.

The plan includes introducing more rock structures and logs to help narrow and deepen the channel, Stromberg said. Shoreline trees would be left alone, instead of harvested by the U.S. Forest Service.

The agency would also ensure the fish would have access to cold-water channels and springs.

"Some of it is going to be something that will be voluntary, carried out by landowners," Stromberg said of channel and shoreline work. "We could go into a cost-sharing agreement for planting, or they could plant trees on their own."

The goal is to bring the water bodies into compliance with state water quality standards.

"What we try to do is get as close as we can to natural background conditions," Stromberg said.

The proposal document can be downloaded on the DEQ website, at www.deq.idaho.gov/. The document, Draft Upper Coeur d'Alene River Sub basin Temperature Total Maximum Daily Loads Addendum, is listed under Public Comment Opportunities.

Written comments must be submitted by 5 p.m. on April 10. Comments can be emailed to kajsa.stromberg@deq.idaho.gov, or mailed to DEQ Coeur d'Alene Regional Office/2110 Ironwood Parkway/Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814.

Public comments will follow with a public meeting. The draft will then be submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency, Stromberg said.

There should be no delay on starting the projects, she said.

"It's going to take some time," Stromberg said of improving the stream channels and shorelines. "It takes a long time for these trees to grow."

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