After watching thousands of pounds of fish die off, operators of the Kemoo Trout Farm near West Point claim the water being released from Schaads Reservoir is warmer than it's supposed to be, and the state Fish and Game Department appears to agree with them.

Water is released from Schaads at two different sources by the Calaveras Public Utility District. One release takes warmer water from the upper level of the small lake through a small hydroelectric plant. The second draws water from the deeper, colder part of Schaads and delivers it at a point about 20 feet upstream of the power plant.

Under agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, CPUD is to maintain a maximum release temperature of 19 degrees Celsius, or 66.2 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature climbs higher than that, the generator is to be shut down.

Don and Janice Stivers, who lease the trout farm from owner and original operator Paul Stein, claim the utility district is measuring the temperature at the wrong source, and that's proving deadly for their fish and, ultimately, their business.

The optimal temperature for raising trout is 59 degrees Fahrenheit, Don Stivers said. A temperature of 70 degrees stresses the fish and can eventually be fatal.

During the July 13-14 weekend, Kemoo lost 278 pounds of fish - $697.50 worth - when morning temperatures at the farm stood at 69 and evening readings climbed to 76.

This is not the first time the Stivers have experienced large loses.

"The first two years things went well," Don Stivers said. "Then we started to have problems losing fish."

In 2000, the farm lost about 2,300 pounds of fish, Janice Stivers said.

While hot weather can add to the misery, the Stivers put most of the blame on the water being released from Schaads, and say it's too warm.

CPUD is taking its measurement slightly downstream from the power plant, after its warm water has mixed with the colder water released from the secondary pipe.

The Stivers say the temperature is supposed to be measured at the discharge point of the power plant, where the water is warmest. It's at that point the water is not to exceed 66.2 degrees, which would create colder blended water downstream.

Last Friday, a mildly warm day, the Stivers took measurements at the power plant about 2 p.m. with the Enterprise present.

Janice Stivers' thermometer showed the discharge from the deeper part of the reservoir was 54 degrees. The water coming out of the generator was 71 degrees and about 30 feet downstream, when the water has been mixed, it was 63 degrees.

Add another 6 to 8 degrees as the water proceeds downstream, Stivers said, and the water reaching Kemoo is well above the danger level for trout farming.

Kemoo does not take up a lot of space. A series of small tanks under cover of a three-walled building contain the hatchlings.

Outdoor concrete basins that would normally hold the larger fingerlings have been shut down in an effort to keep the water temperature from creeping higher.

Seven of eight large, outdoor tanks presently house adult trout, with two of the tanks holding those that have reached a size to be sold for fish plantings.

Friday's temperature in the large tanks was 70. In fact, records kept by the Stivers indicate July water temperatures have risen considerably over the last few years.

In July 1998, the average water temperature was 64.5, according to the Stivers, and now stands at 67.9.

The Stivers said they tried working with CPUD, but without success.

"We get no cooperation out of them, no understanding, no help and I think they've tried to deliberately mislead us by quoting this 50-some degree temperature," Don Stivers said.

CPUD General Manager Gary Goffe said the utility district is operating just as it has since the hydroelectric generator began operating in 1985, measuring the mix of water from the two sources.

Mike Meinz, a staff scientist with Fish and Game and the federal relicensing coordinator for the region, said the Stivers appear to have a case.

Meinz added he was drafting a letter to CPUD with documentation stating the intent of the watering measuring stipulations is to take readings not from the blended water, but from the tailwater coming directly out of the power plant.

"I don't know if they have documents showing something different than that," Meinz said.

Fish and Game has no jurisdiction over the trout farm, Meinz said, "but the hatchery gives some indication of what's going on with the river. If it's too hot for the hatchery, it's too hot for the river."

When told of Fish and Game's research, Goffe said he disagreed with its interpretation of the measuring techniques.

"We feel this is the way it's supposed to be," Goffe said.

If the department says otherwise, Goffe said his district might have to work out a compromise.

Meanwhile, he has advised the Stivers to file a claim with CPUD as a first step to try to get the matter resolved.

Don Stivers said he was putting together an itemized list, which included a loss of 621 fish this year between June 26 and July 21.

Kemoo owner Paul Stein could not be reached for comment, but Meinz said his research of the records reveals the former operator had some problems at the farm after the hydroelectric generator was installed and indicated water temperatures had changed after that.

Contact Craig Koscho at ckoscho@calaverasenterprise.com.