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Leaburg Hatchery running out of water

LEABURG: The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife this week released more than 50,000 trout, including nearly 10,000 “pounders,” into Willamette Valley fishing holes in an emergency action triggered by a gate malfunction at Leaburg Dam.

On Monday, ODFW trucked 9,300 one-pound trout and 42,000 fingerlings to six locations from Salem to Eugene after water levels needed to operate Leaburg Hatchery near Springfield became critically low.

“This is not a great time to release fish but it’s the best we can do under the circumstances,” said Jeff Ziller, ODFW district fish biologist in Eugene.

Leaburg Hatchery, located next to the McKenzie River 16 miles east of Springfield, is one of ODFW’s primary trout producing facilities. The hatchery draws its water from Leaburg Lake, which has been dropping steadily for the past week as the result of flood gate malfunctions at Leaburg Dam. The dam is owned and operated by the Eugene Water & Electric Board, which is spilling more water than usual from the reservoir into the McKenzie River until the floodgates can be repaired.

The hatchery will be able to pull some water out of the McKenzie River below the dam using portable diesel pumps.

“We’re expecting to run out of water from Leaburg Lake any time,” said Erik Withalm, Leaburg Hatchery manager.

Because of public safety concerns and the ongoing hatchery emergency, Leaburg Hatchery will be closed to public access until further notice.

For some anglers, the emergency release is a mid-winter bonanza because one-pound rainbow were stocked in Cottage Grove Reservoir, Dorena Reservoir, Hills Creek Reservoir, Junction City Pond, Walter Wirth Lake, and Walling Pond.

“The quality of these fish is excellent,” Ziller said. “We hate to release so many large trout all at once like this but the silver lining is this will make for some excellent fishing in the near term.”

An additional 42,000 fingerlings were released at Cottage Grove Reservoir, Dorena Reservoir and Detroit Reservoir. Many of these fish are too small for anglers to keep, however more than 25 percent of the fish are greater than eight inches – the minimum length that anglers can keep. Ziller believes that while there may be some mortality associated with the winter release of smaller fish, the majority of them will survive to become catchable trout.

Ziller and Withalm said they expect the impact on future fisheries to be minimal. Withalm noted that Leaburg Hatchery usually maintains some “extra” fish as a buffer for any unforeseen issues. Ziller added that while fishery managers may have to make some adjustments in the number of fish they release at a few trout stocking sites he expects they will be relatively minor.

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