The deal to restore rainbow trout stocking in the Colorado River has been signed, sealed and delivered. An agreement to reopen the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery to the raising of sports fish was executed on Wednesday.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department has agreed to fund half of the nearly $800,000 that is believe to be needed to install a new water pump system to supply fresh water to the stock ponds at the Willow Beach facility. The agreement will also ensure that trout will be trucked to Lake Mohave on a temporary basis until repairs are completed.
The water pumping system will replace a water line that has not functioned for many years. It was never fixed because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) initially believed it cost as much as $9 million to fully repair. The availability of a back-up water line also made the need for repairs less important, however, as the level of the Colorado River started to drop, the back-up line became less reliable.
The fish stocking system crashed in Nov. 2013, prompting the “emergency stocking” of 11,000 rainbow trout when the low water level made it impossible to draw fresh water. Even with their attempts, officials at the hatchery still lost 20,000 fish due to a lack of water movement through the system.
The first response by the USFWS was to abandon the trout stocking program in its entirety. When USFWS made the announcement, local officials, became alarmed. Mohave County Supervisor Hildy Angius took up the fight to reverse the decision claiming the impact it would have on the economy of the Bullhead City/Laughlin area would be devastating.
She embarked on a very public campaign to reverse the USFWS decision, meeting with officials in Phoenix and Washington D.C. She even testified before a congressional subcommittee last year on legislation that would have forced the USFWS to restart the fish hatchery program.
Angius’ efforts paid off late last year when it was announced that an agreement had been reached. Her tenacity earned the respect of U.S. Sen. John McCain.
U.S. Sen. John McCain was quick to credit Angius for her steadfast commitment to the fight to reopen the fish hatchery.
“I would also like to thank Mohave County Supervisor Hildy Angius,” McCain said. “There has been no greater advocate for fixing the Willow Beach Fish Hatchery than Hildy and an agreement would not have been reached without her tireless work.”
“The ink is dry,” said Angius. “This is a huge win for Mohave County and goes to prove that this board (of supervisors) will fight for what we believe in.”
For their part, the USFWS will oversee the actual repairs to the pipeline and raise rainbow trout for stocking in the Colorado River for five years. The fish hatchery will supply two million triploid rainbow trout eggs to AZGFD annually for five years and supply 160,000 Apache trout eggs to the Department for 10 years.