Setback for school fish program

M. Kate West
Chester Editor

    When a Plumas Unified School District maintenance crew arrived at Chester High School to repair a water line June 18, no one could have foreseen the tragedy that would evolve from shutting off an old valve.

    According to teacher Dave Bradley, the crew uncovered an old line and shut it off — not knowing it was connected to and supplied the fish hatchery housed in the old auto shop building.


 As a result of this inadvertent action, 18,000 fish suffocated from the lack of circulating water. Bradley discovered them June 19 when he arrived to do the evening feeding.

    Bradley, along with the PUSD maintenance crew, was back in the fish lab Monday, June 21, to remove the dead fish from the tanks.

    As he worked, Bradley explained how fish in tanks full of water could have died as a result of a water line being shut off.

    “The water in this system circulates from the fish tanks to a central drum filter and out to the sump pump, which then pushes (returns) oxygenated water back into the tanks,” Bradley said.

    “In order for the water to get to the sump pump it must pass through the rotating filter on the drum. When the water supply was cut, the water sprayers couldn’t clean the filter,” he added.

    Bradley said keeping the filter clean was critical to the system.

    “When the water was cut to the sprayers, the filter clogged. When that happens, water cannot pass through the filter to the sump pump,” Bradley said.

    Instead, water arriving at the filter station backed up in the drum until it began to reach drain level and was subsequently diverted to the sewer.

    Bradley said he found the sump pump dry upon his arrival.

    “Because fresh water wasn’t re-circulating and replacing the old water, the fish suffocated,” said Bradley.

    He said those fish were all spawned out of the wild rainbow trout of Lake Almanor and were scheduled to be used for classroom study until the end of their first year of life, about April 2011.

    “At this time the fish would have been released back into the North Fork of the Feather River to make space for next year’s spawn,” he said.

    Bradley said the fingerlings would have grown to approximately six to eight inches in length.

Stay the course
    Bradley said the loss of the fish was not the fault of the new system.

    “A lot of people have contributed to this system privately over the past two years. I ask that you remain confident; I still believe in the new system,” Bradley said.

    The loss of the fish came one day after what Bradley called “a really successful open house”.

    “We had professors here from San Jose State and they were so impressed. They said our fish lab was so unique for a high school. They also said most colleges don’t have a system of this level,” he said.

    Bradley again stated the need for confidence in the new system to remain high.

    “We want you to feel confident in the system. We are not done yet — we still have to finish the hatchery,” he said.
    Bradley said the goal of the program is to raise fish for the Almanor Basin.

    “We want to continue to work with your gifts in sustaining this outstanding program,” Bradley said.
Name that trout
    A total of 800 trout managed to survive and Bradley and his students are going to use them as part of a Fourth of July fundraiser.

    “We are going to place them in a special tank and ask people to donate $5 and adopt a fish,” Bradley said.
    He said community members and guests who adopt a trout would gain a number of benefits.

    “The person who adopts will be able to name the fish. A student lab technician will be present to take down the personal information on the owner who will in turn receive a monthly update on the progress of their adopted fish,” he said.

    “We are going to have these fish at 135 Main St. (The Giggling Crow) on the Fourth of July. We will also have a special booth where we will be selling food, T-shirts and hats to help raise funds for the fish lab,” Bradley said.

    “Anyone who can come by and support our program will be greatly appreciated,” he added.

Program outlook
    Bradley said his immediate goal was to place a call to the California Department of Fish and Game to try and obtain replacement trout from their hatchery.

    “Fish and Game does this for free. If they are unable to re-supply the program we are going to have to go to a private hatchery,” he said.

    Bradley also said, “With the district’s support we will somehow have 20,000 fish to finish out the school year and re-stock our local streams and lake.”

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