Biodiversity: Will the rain crow sing again?

August 21, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Feds map critical habitat for yellow-billed cuckoo

Yellow-billed cuckoos have nearly been extirpated from the western U.S. Photo courtesy Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

Yellow-billed cuckoos have nearly been extirpated from the western U.S. Photo courtesy Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

Will yellow-billed cuckoos make a comeback in Colorado?

Will yellow-billed cuckoos make a comeback in Colorado?

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The long endangered species odyssey of the yellow-billed cuckoo may be one step closer to resolution, as federal wildlife officials this week proposed designating more than half a million acres of critical habitat for the birds, sometimes known as rain crows for their habit of singing before a storm.

The bird was once common along most rivers and streams in the West, but the decline of the species, eyed for protection since 1986, shows how much human activities have degraded riparian riverside habitat. Yellow-billed cuckoos are neotropical migrants that winter in South America and nest along rivers and streams in western North America.

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San Luis Valley: Counties oppose endangered species listing for Rio Grande cutthroat

July 28, 2014
Rio Grande cutthroat trout   via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Rio Grande cutthroat trout via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

With a recommendation due by the end of the month whether or not to list Rio Grande cutthroat trout as endangered, local officials are ramping up efforts to prove this species does not need to be listed. The SLV County Commissioners Association, encompassing the six counties in the San Luis Valley, earlier this year joined four other nearby counties in a memorandum of understanding asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to list the RG cutthroat as endangered. On Monday the Valley commissioners, joined by Hinsdale County Commissioner Cindy Dozier and Hinsdale County Attorney Michael O’Loughlin , reaffirmed their desire to do all they can to show Fish and Wildlife the species does not need to be listed because it is already amply protected in this region.

Hinsdale County has taken the fiscal lead on coordinating this effort, enlisting the help of O’Loughlin and consultant Tom Spezze to draft the memorandum of understanding as well as a conservation agreement plan. Dozier told the SLV county officials on Monday the share of each of the 10 participating counties would be about $4,000, if the counties divided up the costs for O’Loughlin’s and Spezze’s work equally. That would cover the work that has been completed to this point (approximately $24,000, about $20,000 for Spezze’s efforts and the remainder for O’Loughlin’s ) plus the work that will be performed from now through January. Dozier said Spezze is offering his time at a reduced rate.

“Both of them have been watching their hours carefully ,” she said.

Dozier said if the costs were split according to occupied habitat for the species, some counties would bear a much greater share than others, and since there will undoubtedly be other species the counties will have to work together on in the future, it would probably be best to just split up the costs equally among them. She said her county officials see this as a wise investment compared to the economic harm this listing could cause the county.

Alamosa County Commissioner Michael Yohn said he saw this type of effort as ongoing since there are many other species that could be potentially listed in the future.

The county commissioners said they would discuss the funding again at their next association meeting in September. The association will hear regional budget requests on September 29. The Valley commissioner association voted on Monday to continue using Hinsdale County as the fiscal agent for this project.

Dozier thanked the counties for signing the memorandum of understanding (MOU.) She said Las Animas County signed a letter of support but not the memorandum of understanding. Other counties involved are San Juan and Archuleta Counties.

“We are all in this boat together,” Dozier said. “It’s important we work together.”

She said each county has a vested interest in whether the RG cutthroat trout are listed or not, so it is vital the counties let their collective voice be heard at the state and ultimately the federal level.

The listing of a species can affect an area that never even had the species, she added. For example, Hinsdale County is included in the Gunnison sage-grouse critical habitat even though that species never existed in the county or within 18 miles of it.

O’Loughlin explained the next step after the MOU is a conservation agreement “showing the Fish and Wildlife Service we are doing what we can as local counties to help conserve the species.”

It is a similar process to the one Gunnison County went through on the sage grouse, he said. The conservation agreement brings the local counties to the table to have a voice on the RG cutthroat trout discussion .

O’Loughlin said the next range-wide conservation team meeting is in January and he hoped the counties represented by this conservation plan would be able to participate in that meeting.

Spezze said the recommendation is due the end of this month whether to propose listing RG cutthroat trout as endangered or whether to continue its status as not warranted for listing. Spezze added that whether or not the species is proposed for listing, the 10-county group is still ahead of the curve in developing a conservation strategy.

“It gives us a seat at the table.”

Spezze explained there are two ways to be involved, as a signatory to the conservation effort, which would obligate the group financially , or as a participating entity. Trout Unlimited, for example, is a participating entity but not a signatory.

A participating entity would be showing political support but would not be obligated directly and financially. Saguache County Commissioner Jason Anderson said some folks are discouraged by the efforts against the Gunnison sage-grouse listing that seem to be futile in light of the federal government’s unyielding hand to do whatever it wants, regardless of local input.

“I am hearing a lot of people say we are not going to do anything”until they see what happens with the sage-grouse .”

Spezze said the decision on whether to list the Gunnison sage-grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act is expected by the end of November. In May the D.C. District Court granted a six-month extension to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make the final decision.

O’Loughlin said whatever the decision is, there will likely be legal action afterwards . He said it could be years before the outcome is reached.

Dozier said Gunnison County has told the government if it lists the Gunnison sage-grouse, the county will file a lawsuit.

“Will the states succeed against the feds in a lawsuit ? We don’t know,” she said.

“What do we do in the meantime?” O’Loughlin asked. “I look at it and say we should probably do something.”

He said he believed it would be better to be proactive with the RG cutthroat trout.

Dozier added what the counties are doing now is laying the groundwork for whatever may occur in the future with this species. O’Loughlin said, “I don’t want to give Fish & Wildlife any reason to say you didn’t do anything.”

He added, “My job is to ensure we have done everything we can to be as solid as we can to get the outcome we want, which is an unwarranted decision for each of these species.”

Alamosa County Commissioner Darius Allen said, “I believe it will end up in court, so everything we have done will show them we have made efforts.”

Rio Grande County Commissioner Pam Bricker said, “I do think we need to move forward and be proactive.”

Saguache County Commissioner Linda Joseph said conservation efforts need to continue, regardless of the Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision. Dozier said O’Loughlin will revise and strengthen the conservation agreement within the next week and send it out to the counties again for their county attorneys’ review and subsequent approval during public meetings.

She also asked for the association’s approval of the conservation agreement once it is finalized.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


“We are going to have to be sure [Colorado] protects #RioGrande compact apportioned water” — David Robbins

July 27, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

WildEarth Guardians have not backed off from seeking more water from Colorado to keep fish afloat in New Mexico. This week the environmental group wrote to U.S. Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor asking the department to become more actively involved in management of the Rio Grande to protect endangered species like the silvery minnow and provide water for wild and scenic river and recreational uses as well as bolstering bosque and wildlife refuge areas in New Mexico. The group specifically asked, for example, that the department “engage” the states of Colorado and New Mexico “in order to find a way to ensure the Rio Grande receives its fair share of water.”

The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) is watching the WildEarth actions closely since they could ultimately affect water use in Colorado. The group maintains that downstream states are already receiving their “fair share of water” through Rio Grande Compact requirements that have been in place for decades.

RGWCD Attorney David Robbins told the water district’s board of WildEarth’s latest move this week and said although the environmental group acknowledges the compact, it does not agree with it.

“There is no panacea that will right the wrongs of the past century on behalf of the Rio Grande,” said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers program director at WildEarth Guardians . “The fate of the river, however, depends on the willingness and leadership of state and federal agencies to create a water right that belongs to the Rio Grande ” The wild west approach to managing water in the Rio Grande Basin cannot continue without further serious consequences for flows in the river. Interior is in a unique position to implement and navigate new strategies and to reform the archaic system of water management under which it currently operates.”

WildEarth in its letter to the Department of Interior recommended: 1) expanding “the scope of the solutions” by engaging the states of Colorado and New Mexico in order to find a way to ensure the Rio Grande receives its fair share of water, 2) providing funding so the Bureau of Land Management can determine the flows necessary in the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River to preserve recreational , scenic and other values of the designated reach in central New Mexico, and 3) investigating and planning to remove or modify the dams and reservoirs that segment the Rio Grande to reconnect isolated habitat.

Robbins said the water district needs to keep track of this situation.

“We are going to have to pay more attention. We are going to have to be more involved. We are going to have to be sure the state of Colorado protects compact apportioned waters for beneficial use within Colorado.”

Robbins said it was ironic that within a few days of Gary Boyce’s video presentation on the internet proposing to take San Luis Valley Water north WildEarth Guardians sent a letter to the Department of Interior proposing to send more water south.

“We are going to end up having to deal with a proposal to take water north for the metro area, Front Range and demands that federal agencies take an active role trying to force more water out of the Valley going south,” Robbins said.

He said there have been efforts by people in New Mexico to buy senior water rights in Colorado to try to send more water downstream, but the compact that governs how much water goes downstream is between states, not individuals. If someone were to buy water rights in Colorado and retire them in hopes of sending more water downstream, it would just mean that the next water right in line would get to use the water, and it would not affect the total volume sent to downstream states.

RGWCD Board Member Cory Off said it is interesting the WildEarth group wants to improve the bosque in New Mexico but does not seem to care about Colorado’s scenic areas. Robbins said the cooperation the Valley and Colorado have experienced in protecting riparian areas in this state does not exist in the same manner in New Mexico, but Colorado should not have to “disassemble what’s good in Colorado because they would like to see that happen in New Mexico.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

For more than four decades, Colorado has followed the letter of the law that dictates how flows on the Rio Grande are divvied up with downstream neighbors New Mexico and Texas.

But a New Mexico environmental group concerned with the survival of an endangered fish says that is not enough. WildEarth Guardians told Colorado officials in January it intended to sue the state over its management of the Rio Grande, claiming that the miserly flows that cross the state line in May and June of dry years were not enough to preserve the Rio Grande silvery minnow. Last week, the group wrote to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which has the responsibility of preserving the fish and also plays a large role in managing the river in New Mexico, asking that it exert more influence over Colorado.

“We just see the federal government playing some role in making the conversation more broad,” said Jen Pelz, an attorney for the guardians who specializes in water issues.

Pelz said she has not gotten a formal response from the state regarding the January notice.

But David Robbins, an attorney for the Alamosa-based Rio Grande Water Conservation District, was clear in his review of the letter to the Interior with the district’s board.

“It’s wrong and it deserves to be resisted strenuously,” he said.

Water users in the valley have lived up to the compact’s obligations and aren’t required to go beyond it, he said.

“We don’t have to let the water go downstream,” Robbins said. “We’re entitled to use it in our state and we always want to remember that.”

Colorado has complied with the 1939 Rio Grande Compact for more than four decades after settling a lawsuit brought by New Mexico and Texas. Following the 1968 settlement, Colorado’s state engineer initiated the practice of curtailing surface water rights — even those that predate the compact — to ensure that enough water made it downstream to satisfy compact requirements.

The delivery requirements vary from year to year, depending on the size of Colorado’s water supply. When the Rio Grande has a wet year, more water must be sent downstream. In dry years, water users in the San Luis Valley keep a bigger share.

But there are no requirements that dictate what time of year the water has to be delivered. When the irrigation season begins April 1 in the valley, irrigators divert water for nearly 600,000 acres of potatoes, barley, alfalfa and pasture. Moreover, what the plants don’t soak up in late spring and early summer, often percolates down to the unconfined aquifer, which many water users then tap to finish their crops after the stream flows have dwindled.

But for Pelz, the compact, with its emphasis on the role of the states, is not enough to solve the river’s problems.

“No one really looks at it as a whole river,” she said.

The timing of Colorado’s diversions are a problem, WildEarth Guardians argued, because in dry years the compact allows Colorado water users to take nearly all of the river’s flows. The group’s letter to interior officials noted that on May 18 of last year, the Rio Grande reached its peak flow and Colorado was diverting 98 percent of the river before it crossed the state line. That leaves an insufficient amount of water left over when the minnow enters breeding season in May and reduces the chances of the fish’s survival, the group said.

And the dry years in which this scenario occurs are likely to become the norm as climate change advances, the group said in the letter.

Pelz estimated that shutting down irrigators for three days would produce the flows needed to clean out sediment and produce the habitat needed for the minnow.

“It doesn’t take shutting down the San Luis Valley for two weeks,” she said.

But Robbins pointed to a host of problems in New Mexico that could be solved before asking Colorado to send additional water downstream.

For example, New Mexico has five dams that hinder the minnow and Colorado has nothing to do with their operations.

Moreover, Robbins said that as early as 1916, the minnow was effectively healthy despite the fact that Colorado already had reached its peak use along the Rio Grande.

And the conservation district has undertaken its own plan to preserve habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher, a federally endangered species that also is of concern to WildEarth Guardians.

The demands from the south for more water out of the valley also come just as valley rancher Gary Boyce has developed a new proposal to export water to the Front Range.

The timing of the two developments was not lost on Robbins.

“If everybody in the room and all of your neighbors are starting to feel a little bit pulled asunder or under threat of being drawn and quartered, you’re probably awake and your senses are working,” he said.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Feds sued over #RioGrande flow for minnow, bird — Albuquerque Journal

July 26, 2014


From the Albuquerque Journal (Mike Bush/John Fleck):

Citing “two decades of broken promises by federal and state water managers,” a Santa Fe-based environmental group filed a federal lawsuit against two government agencies Thursday alleging they failed “to secure dynamic and perennial flows for the Rio Grande” needed to protect the silvery minnow and Southwestern willow flycatcher.

Water managers of one agency say they have made major changes in how they operate, while another said it has spent at least $50 million over the past decade to protect the fish.

In its suit, WildEarth Guardians accuses the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of failing to adopt “even the most modest changes in management on behalf of the Rio Grande.”

WildEarth Guardians has its eye on the two endangered species the silvery minnow and a small bird, the Southwestern willow flycatcher.

“The primary objective of this litigation is to secure the congressionally mandated protections of the (Endangered Species Act) to protect and conserve the silvery minnow and the willow flycatcher,” it says.

Neither of the defendant agencies would comment on the complaint Thursday, although the Corps of Engineers said it may issue a statement next week after a review of the document.

Here’s the release from Wild Earth Guardians:

WildEarth Guardians filed suit today [July 24, 2014] in federal court citing two decades of broken promises by federal and state water managers to secure dynamic and perennial flows for the Rio Grande. The group believes that these agencies’ failure to exercise the full range of their authority to protect the river and its imperiled species not only violates the Endangered Species Act, but also makes it impossible to restore a functioning Rio Grande ecosystem.

“The Rio Grande is central to the history, culture and beauty of New Mexico,” said Jen Pelz the Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “The river has sustained the valley for centuries, and we have a moral obligation to hold water managers and users accountable to ensure that the river does not vanish.”

The group’s lawsuit details the failures by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to implement even the most modest changes in management on behalf of the Rio Grande. A 2003 management plan attempted to return some balance to the Rio Grande in central New Mexico by requiring certain flows and physical infrastructure changes—reconnecting the river from fragmentation by dams—for the benefit of the species. The federal and state agencies, however, failed to honor their commitments to the detriment of the endangered species.

“The plan of the past decade did not go far enough to protect and maintain a living river,” added Pelz. “This lawsuit seeks to provide the shake up necessary to realign our collective values and secure new commitments from all water managers to ensure that the river has a right to its own water and it is a sustainable, dynamic ecosystem.”

The lack of oversight and accountability in the Rio Grande also adds to the decrease of flows in the river. As just one example, the “Water Bank” operated by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District—which distributes water throughout the District to land without water rights—requires authorization by the State and federal government. However, even though both entities have expressed notable concerns about the validity of the Water Bank and requested proof of beneficial use of the District’s water rights prior to any such approval, the District operates the Water Bank each year without any oversight or authorization.

“It’s a bank without a charter. Not even the worst Wall Street bankers could have established a system so lacking in accountability and supervision,” said Pelz. “Stealing water like this from our river and our future is reckless and cannot continue.”

Steve Sugarman and in-house lawyer, Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, represent the organization in the litigation. This lawsuit is the latest action in WildEarth Guardians’ campaign to protect and restore the Rio Grande, America’s third longest and one of its most iconic rivers.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


“Western Views” — news from Western Resource Advocates is hot off the presses

June 29, 2014
Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Earlier this month, Bart Miller, Water Program Director, joined a group of more than 20 national and local conservationists, water policy stakeholders, and other river advocates on a four-day raft trip through Yampa Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument as part of the Yampa River Awareness Project (YRAP).

Some YRAP participants did a fly-over of the Yampa Valley and Yampa Canyon to see the river and landscape from the air. Then the entire group spent the next four days floating down the 71-mile stretch of river from Deerlodge Park (west of the town of Maybell) to the Split Mountain Boat Ramp in Utah.

The trip was fun and informative. Rafts and kayaks crashed through waves at a whopping 20,000 cubic feet per second while the group learned about the Canyon’s geology, history, recreation, and habitat value for endangered fish. Discussions took place on potential threats to the river and how best to preserve the flows and integrity of the river’s bio-diversity and many other values. Each participant left with a better understanding of what needs to be done to preserve the Yampa and his/her personal role in that effort.

Bart’s take-homes included the benefits of: better aligning recreational and agricultural interests at the local level; creating an update to the management plan for the Yampa’s resource values; and spreading the word on the Yampa River’s unique and irreplaceable bio-diversity.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here.


Runoff/snowpack news: Good year to fill storage — if we had it to fill

June 10, 2014
Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post

Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post

From CBS Denver:

Flooding along the Cache La Poudre River damaged nearly two dozen homes and businesses in Greeley last week, and according to officials at the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Poudre River does not have any dams or reservoirs specifically for flood control. But there is an effort underway to change that.

The Poudre River is full of melted snow — so much so right now that levels are well above average in Larimer and Weld counties, spilling over banks, and flooding homes and businesses.

“We could fill a reservoir in a year like this,” Brian Werner with the Northern Colorado’s Water Conservancy District said.

He points out farmers’ irrigation dams inside the Poudre Canyon, but says water cannot be diverted to those to prevent flooding. He says there is no reservoir along the river because the idea was unpopular in the past.

“I think the general public is more aware when they see these flows and saying, ‘Boy, couldn’t we just store a little bit of that?’ Which is what this proposal does,” Werner said.

Northern Water wants to build two reservoirs off stream that could store water during high flow times. Planners estimate the project would cost $500 million, including $40 million to re-route Highway 287 to make room for Glade Reservoir, and build a smaller one north of Greeley…

But the federal approval process is moving slowly.

“We’ve been working on this in some form for over 20 years, taking some of the flood flows here on the Poudre and storing it,” Werner said.

They do expect to get some news on the status of studies being conducted on the project by the end of this year. It’s unlikely building would start before 2018.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Several of the reservoirs that feed Northern Colorado are full, or approaching overfull, said Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which helps manage the reservoirs. Carter Lake, southwest of Loveland, is full, and Lake Granby near Rocky Mountain National Park is about to overflow, Werner added.

“We wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years a year ago,” Werner said Tuesday. Only a month ago, it was fifty-fifty if the reservoir would spill. “Now it looks like it will spill.”

Horsetooth is just 2 feet shy of being full, the highest the reservoir has been in late May and early June in the past six years.

The reservoir can hold enough to submerge 156,735 football fields in a foot of water. As of June 3, Horsetooth was holding 154,480 acre-feet of water, putting it around 98.5 percent full, said Zach Allen, a spokesman for Northern Water.

But what happens if Horsetooth does get full? The answer, Werner said, is basically “nothing.”

“We can control all the inflows to Horsetooth,” he said. Flatiron Reservoir and the Big Thompson River feed Horsetooth, and Northern Water controls all the outflows and inflows to the reservoir; Horsetooth’s water level can’t get higher than Northern Water wants it to, Werner said…

Lake Granby, on the other hand, is fed with snowmelt straight from the mountains. It’s levels are uncontrollable, and it could spill over any day now, Werner said.

“You can’t control what nature is going to do” with Granby, he added…

Northern Water for years has pursued an expansion of its water storage capacity to take advantage of plentiful water years. The Northern Integrated Supply Project would build a reservoir larger than Horsetooth northwest of Fort Collins. The proposal has drawn opposition from environmental groups and is in a yearslong federal review of its potential environmental impacts expected to be released late this year…

Much of Northern Colorado’s snowpack, around 200 percent of normal levels after an early May snow, has yet to melt, which brings the potential for much more water to come down from the mountains in the coming weeks.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We have seen the water level at Green Mountain Reservoir rise to the spillway gates as snow melt runoff inflows continue to come into the reservoir. As a result, we were able to increase the release from the dam to the Lower Blue River by 300 cfs today [June 9], using the spillway.

We are now releasing 1800 cfs to the Lower Blue.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

The weekend went pretty smoothly for runoff here on the east slope of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Thunderstorms boosted runoff to the Big Thompson River slightly with inflow into Lake Estes peaking early this morning around 721 cfs. But this is still a downward trend.

As a result, outflow through Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson Canyon dropped today down to about 125 cfs. As we move into the rest of the week, visitors to and residents of the canyon will continue to see nightly flows rise with snow runoff, enhanced some by rain runoff, just as they have seen for the past week.

Deliveries to the canal that feeds Horsetooth Reservoir have brought Horsetooth back up to full. Its water level elevation has been fluctuating within the top foot of its storage between 5429 and 5430 feet. With it back up near 5430, we have curtailed the canal to Horsetooth and increased the return of Big Thompson River water to the canyon at the canyon mouth using the concrete chute. By 5 p.m. this evening the chute should be running around 300 cfs.

The drop off in snowmelt runoff inflows will allow us to begin bringing some Colorado-Big Thompson Project West Slope water over again using the Alva B. Adams Tunnel. We anticipate the tunnel coming on mid-week and importing somewhere between 200-250 cfs.

Once the tunnel comes back on, we will also turn the pump to Carter Lake back on, probably on Wednesday of this week. Carter’s water level elevation dropped slightly during runoff operations. It is around 95% full. Now that Horsetooth is basically full, Carter will receive the C-BT water. Turning the pump back on to Carter means residents around and visitors to the reservoir will see it fill for a second time this season.

Pinewood Reservoir, between Lake Estes and Carter Lake, is seeing a more typical start to its summer season. It continues to draft and refill with power generation as it usually does this time of year. This is also true for Flatiron Reservoir, just below Carter Lake and the Flatiron Powerplant. Both are expected to continue operating this way through June.

That is the plan we anticipate the East Slope of the C-BT to follow the rest of this week, June 9-13. We will post information if there is a major change; but as it stands now, I do not plan on sending an update again until next Monday. The state’s gage page is always available for those wishing to continue watching the water on a daily basis.

From The Crested Butte News (Toni Todd):

Word on the street this spring was that Blue Mesa Reservoir would be bursting at its banks this summer. Predictions were based on official and unofficial reports of above-normal river flows. However, a 2012 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has changed how local dams are operated in wet years, in deference to endangered fish species downstream. This new operational protocol will preclude the reservoir from filling this year.

“The reservoir is now only scheduled to reach a maximum storage of around 80 percent capacity in 2014,” said Upper Gunnison River District manager Frank Kugel. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) began blasting water through Blue Mesa Dam last week, with simultaneous releases happening at Morrow Point and Crystal Reservoirs, a trifecta of water storage and management that makes up what’s known as the Aspinall Unit.

The Record of Decision (ROD) states, “The EIS modifies the operations of the Aspinall Unit to provide sufficient releases of water at times, quantities, and duration necessary to avoid jeopardy to endangered fish species and adverse modification of their designated critical habitat while maintaining and continuing to meet authorized purposes of the Aspinall Unit.”

Given this new norm of operations adapted by the bureau during wet years, will Blue Mesa ever fill again?

“That’s a valid question, since the reservoir often does not fill in dry years due to lack of supply, and now with the Aspinall EIS, it will have trouble filling in wet years,” said Kugel.

“We all signed onto this because we agreed it’s important to save these fish,” said Colorado Fish and Wildlife Aquatic Species coordinator Harry Crocket.

According to the BOR’s website, an update written by hydraulic engineer Paul Davidson, unregulated inflow to Blue Mesa is 126 percent of normal this year, April through July. That’s 850,000 acre-feet of water entering the lake during the runoff months. “This sets the senior Black Canyon Water Right call for a one-day spring peak flow of 6,400 cfs, the Aspinall 2012 ROD target at a 10-day peak flow of 14,350 cfs… Reclamation plans to operate the Aspinall Unit to meet both the water right and ROD recommendations,” said Davidson.

The Colorado pike minnow, bonytail chub, humpback chub and razorback sucker are the fish that stand to benefit. The big flows are expected to improve the fishes’ critical habitat, at a time when the fish will be looking to spawn. Water will inundate otherwise shallow or dry riverbank areas, creating calm, sheltered spots for hatchlings, and heavy flows will wash the larvae into those areas.

The Gunnison River, said Crocket, was “mostly omitted” from the EIS as critical habitat. However, he said, “Historically, it was home to at least a couple of these species.”

“It’s a highly migratory fish,” Crocket said of the Colorado pike minnow. “It’s adapted to this big river system.”

It’s a system irrefutably changed by humans. Critical habitat for the Colorado pike minnow includes 1,123.6 miles of river, to include stretches of the Green, Yampa and White rivers, from Rifle to Glen Canyon, and the Yampa River to its confluence with the Colorado River.

“They [US Fish and Wildlife] did designate critical habitat [from the mouth of the Gunnison] to the Uncompahgre confluence [at Delta],” Crocket said.

The Colorado pike minnow called the Gunnison River home through the 1960s. “After that,” said Crocket, “it blinked out. It’s not been possible for it to be re-colonized.” A new fish passage at the Redlands structure, two miles upriver from the Gunnison-Colorado River confluence at Grand Junction, allows fish to make their way around the barrier and upstream, marking the first time in more than 100 years for those downstream fish to gain passage to the Gunnison.

Meanwhile, upstream, a form of collateral damage resulting from the big water releases at Blue Mesa worries Fish and Wildlife personnel. The number of fish sucked into and blown out through the dam is staggering. The technical term for this is entrainment.
“Bigger water years mean more water through the dam, and more fish entrained,” said Gunnison area Colorado Fish and Wildlife aquatic biologist Dan Brauch. “Certainly, loss of kokanee with those releases is a concern.”

From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

Water levels and snowpack are 121 percent of normal, with as much as 40 percent yet to melt at some higher elevation areas, according to Snotel data…

Snow water equivalent at the Fremont Pass Snotel site, the headwaters of the Eagle River, had 15.1 inches of snow water equivalent on Friday morning still to melt and run into the river. It hit 17 inches on March 18 and kept piling up until May 17 when it peaked at 25.6 inches. It usually doesn’t melt out until June 18, Johnson said.

Streamflow on the Eagle River in Avon may have peaked on May 30, when the daily mean discharge was 4,110 cubic feet per second, which was 249 percent of median for that date. Thursday’s daily mean discharge was 3,650 cfs, 197 percent of normal for Wednesday.

Gore Creek in Lionshead may have peaked June 4.

“Having 20 to 40 percent of the total snowpack remaining in higher elevations in the Colorado Basin is good overall. It should help sustain streamflows through the month,” [Diane Johnson] said…

Copper Mountain still has 4.1 inches of snow water equivalent. That would normally be melted out by now, Johnson said…

Reservoir storage in the state is running 95 percent of normal and 62 percent of capacity. That, however, depends on where you are.


It’s O-fish-al, Federal Dams Ramp up River Flows to Benefit Endangered Fish on the Gunnison River — WRA

May 29, 2014
Aspinall Unit

Aspinall Unit

From Western Resource Advocates (Bart Miller):

It was a snowy year in the upper Gunnison River basin. With high temperatures this week, snowmelt is accelerating fast. The roar of the river is back. Thanks to a decision by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation two years ago, river flows now help improve the health of the Gunnison River.

Late last week, spring flows began to ramp up as did releases below reservoirs at the Aspinall Unit, in an attempt to meet target flows that will benefit endangered fish species in the lower Gunnison river. Western Resource Advocates supported the federal decision in 2012 that changed reservoir operations at the Aspinall Unit to increase river flows, and is excited to see the benefits that will result.

”The Bureau of Reclamation is doing a great job under the new reservoir operations plan,” said Bart Miller, Water Program Director at Western Resource Advocates. “This year is a real test of the Bureau’s ability to make good on their commitment to get the river back into balance. So far, they’re passing the test with flying colors.”

The Bureau projects that, on June 2, 2014, flows through Black Canyon will be around 9,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). This will serve key functions like maintaining the river channel in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. In the lower Gunnison River, near its confluence with the Colorado in Grand Junction, flows may reach as high as 14,000 cfs, a target developed by scientists to benefit federally endangered fish.

As WRA posted on a blog last week: “Colorado now has a water-based recreation industry that—on the West Slope alone—is responsible for 80,000 jobs and over $9 billion in revenue each year. We have deeper knowledge of how essential water is for native fish and wildlife species, national parks, and other irreplaceable treasures. We want to continue to provide for resilient and profitable agriculture and communities, but not at the expense of recreation, tourism, and the environment.”

“Improving flows in the Gunnison is emblematic of what should be done in the Colorado Water

Plan and through each river basin’s own water planning: re-assess how we meet the needs of Colorado residents while protecting the environment and a growing river-based recreation economy,” says Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager at Western Resource Advocates.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Runoff/snowpack news: Reclamation plans releases from Flaming Gorge Reservoir for endangered fish #ColoradoRiver

May 29, 2014
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Lisa Iams/Heather Patno):

Above average snowpack in the upper Green River Basin will enable Reclamation to increase the overall duration of the planned temporary increase in releases from Flaming Gorge Dam to benefit endangered razorback sucker in the Green River below the dam.
Scientists have detected the presence of larval razorback sucker in critical nursery habitat in the flood plains in the Green River which is the ‘trigger’ for increasing releases from Flaming Gorge Dam. Beginning Monday, June 2, 2014, flows will increase to powerplant capacity 4,600 cubic-feet-per-second for approximately 14 days or until the flows in the Yampa River decrease to between 12,000-13,000 cfs. Bypass releases from the dam will then be initiated to support a total downstream release of 8,600 cfs for another 14 days to maintain the desired total flow in the river of 18,600 cfs at target locations.

Flows from Flaming Gorge Dam have been temporarily increased during the spring since 2011 as part of a multi-year cooperative experimental program to benefit the endangered razorback sucker. Flaming Gorge Reservoir is expected to receive 135 percent of average inflow volume this year supporting a longer increased release period.

Scientists have been monitoring the critical habitat to detect the first emergence of razorback sucker larvae as a ‘trigger’ for an experiment being implemented by Reclamation in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. A major purpose of the experiment is to transport as many larval fish as possible into critical nursery habitat which exists in the floodplains along the Green River downstream of the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers. This nursery habitat connects to the river at flows at or above 18,600 cfs, which is the targeted flow this year with the above average hydrology. The increased releases from the dam combined with the Yampa River flows will provide the maximum possible flow to transport the larval fish.

Current projections are for the Yampa River to reach at least 16,400 cfs this Friday, May 30, and for flows to remain elevated between 15,000 to 16,000 cfs through June 5. The projected peak at Jensen, Utah, resulting from the combined flows of the Yampa River and Flaming Gorge releases is approximately 20,000 to 22,000 cfs.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has been consulted concerning the impacts of the releases to the rainbow trout fishery below the dam. While releases during this period will make fishing the river more difficult, no adverse impacts to the fishery are expected.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Cooler temperatures in May and recent storms have prolonged snowpack in the Rockies, but spring runoff has begun in earnest. Arkansas River levels were consistently above average for the last week, as warmer days and some showers over the weekend contributed to the flows.

“We saw the snow melt and start to run early, but then there was a cooling spell,” said Roy Vaughan, Fryingpan-Arkansas Project manager for the Bureau of Reclamation. “Now, we’re looking at everything running later.”

The Fry-Ark Project already has brought 12,000 acre-feet (3.9 billion gallons) through the Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Reservoir. It’s expected to bring in a total of 60,000 acre-feet over the next few weeks.

“We’ve reached the peaks at the Boustead Tunnel, and we’re meeting all the minimum flow requirements (for the Fryingpan River),” Vaughan said.

In order to move water across the Continental Divide, stream flows have to be supported on the Western Slope. With the delayed snowmelt, there is about twice as much water as usual tied up in the snowpack for this time of year.

Statewide, snowpack was at 189 percent of median Tuesday, with the South Platte at 265 percent. Snow is heavier in the northern part of the state, while lagging in the south.

For the Arkansas River basin, that works out to 131 percent of median, but only because snowpack is so heavy near the headwaters of the Arkansas River.

In the Rio Grande basin, snowpack is at 32 percent.

It was never great this year, and now mostly has melted.

Flows in the Upper Arkansas River increased by 2 feet in the last week, with flows at 2,500 cubic feet per second as of Tuesday — significantly higher than normal for the end of May.

Fountain Creek has been up and down, increasing by a foot or more at times as storms hit El Paso County. Locally, heavy rains of up to 2 inches fell in the area from Friday to Sunday.

The Arkansas River at Avondale also climbed a foot over the weekend, and was flowing at about 2,800 cfs Tuesday.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

The swollen Poudre River this week surpassed peak runoff levels for the past three years, even though high snowmelt season has yet to hit Northern Colorado…

The deep snowpack in Northern Colorado’s mountains has yet to melt away, meaning the runoff season and higher river levels are still yet to come. The forecast for Fort Collins this week is for summer-like temperatures, which could jump-start the runoff.

“It’s all going to be really driven by the temperatures this week,” said Wendy Ryan, the assistant state climatologist. “With that much water still in the high country, it’s definitely not time to forget about snowmelt. At least, not yet.”

Still, U.S. Geological Survey data indicates the river has a long way to go before it reaches September 2013 flood levels.

The river has been running higher than normal since the September floods, and high snowpack levels and recent rains have further elevated the flow. At its highest point on Monday, the river measured at 7.2 feet, just barely below the flood stage at 7.5.

The river reached its peak flow around 5:30 p.m. on Monday, when it measured 4,900 cubic feet per second, of cfs, at the mouth of the Poudre Canyon. One cubic foot per second is equal to one basketball floating down the river every second. The flows have been lowering since Monday, and the peak was well past by Tuesday afternoon.

The river measured 10,000 cfs at its peak during the September floods…

The full-fledged runoff season has yet to really get started along the Poudre, but this week could be one of the first of consistently higher temperatures that melt snowpack.

There has been little runoff from the mountains west of Fort Collins to date, said Ryan. The Natural Resources Conservation Service measures snowpack throughout the winter in Colorado and takes snow water equivalent measurements, showing how much water is in the snow.

At a Joe Wright reservoir measuring point, NRCS measured a peak of 32 inches of the snow water equivalent. Only two inches of that has run off.

Rain has created runoff from the lower elevations, specifically over the High Park Fire and Hewlett Fire burn scars along the Poudre Canyon.

This week, temperatures in the 70s and 80s are expected to cause snowmelt, but the National Weather Service is not predicting serious floods along the river. The river is forecast to slowly rise throughout the week.

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

One of 411 state highway bridges bruised by September flooding got a once over Wednesday by a small group of state inspectors who aim to pinpoint structural problems before a big spring runoff.

A swollen Little Thompson River caused some erosion under the bridge, which spans southbound Interstate 25 just south of Johnstown. But it’s not known yet how much bolstering the bridge needs, said Joshua Laipply, state bridge engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“We’ll review the data and make some decisions depending on what we see,” said Laipply, who quickly pointed out the bridge currently doesn’t pose any danger to motorists. “Bridges like this one, have foundations all the way to bedrock. “It’s perfectly stable now.

“But, if we had another 500-year storm now, then I’d be worried.”

At least four teams from CDOT, as well as bridge consultants hired by by the agency, are examining the 411 bridges through June. They hope to discover and fix any safety and structural woes before high temperatures prompt mountain runoff, CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson said.

Most of the bridges are in the Denver-metro area and got tagged with minor damage during the flood. They were inspected shortly after the flood waters receded and deemed drivable with the idea they would get more attention this spring, Laipply said.

In all, about 1,000 bridges from Colorado Springs to Sterling were damaged in some way by the flooding with the most severe getting immediate work, Laipply said.

Bridges in Colorado are inspected every two years, but the flooding meant that schedule had to be moved up.

“These are what we call ‘event inspections,’ ” Laipply said. “So far, what we’ve seen has not been a surprise to us.”

Many of the bridges have seen plenty of “scour” — water flow that takes soil from a bridge’s foundation and moves it downstream. Crews will likely apply rock to make bridge foundations stronger. The crews will have to take into account the changes in river flow and channel elevation caused by the surging water, Laipply said.

CDOT design engineers Scott Huson and Tom Moss each took measurements of the Little Thompson as morning traffic zoomed over their heads. At one point, the river was chest-high to Moss.

“It can get interesting for us out there in the water,” Huson said, “but it’s a job has to be done.”

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

The Poudre River height near Greeley reached nearly 9 feet Tuesday afternoon, topping its flood stage of 8 feet, according to the National Weather Service.

The National Weather Service forecasts were calling for the river to peak at 9 feet that afternoon or in the evening, then gradually fall to below the 8-foot flood stage by early Thursday morning and stay there through the end of the week.

“We anticipate seeing it crest pretty soon, for now,” Eric Reckentine, city of Greeley deputy director of water resources, said Tuesday afternoon. “But we don’t expect this to be the last time we see high water during this run-off season. We’ll keep monitoring it.”

In addition to having high water levels, the Poudre River near Greeley was also moving fast on Tuesday.

Flows at the Greeley gauge at 3:30 p.m. were at about 3,100 cubic feet per second. The historic average is at that measuring point is about 300 cfs.

From KREX (Jacklyn Thrapp):

Recent warm weather melting mountain snowpack prompts dangerous water levels on the Colorado River. According to the National Weather Service, the current flow of the Colorado River is dangerous, quick, cold and strong. The river in Grand Junction is close to bankfull, meaning it’s close to overflowing.

By this weekend, there’s a chance local water levels will be above bankfull, which may cause floods.


Rifle Gap Reservoir proposed management plan undergoing review process #ColoradoRiver

May 23, 2014

Rifle Gap Reservoir via the Applegate Group

Rifle Gap Reservoir via the Applegate Group


Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has submitted its Rifle Gap Reservoir Proposed Lake Management Plan to several of its partners in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the wildlife agencies of the States of Utah and Wyoming. Approval by these partners is the last required step to establish future stocking plans for the popular fishery.

Lake Management Plans describe objectives for specific fisheries, including which species will be stocked and managed. The Rifle Gap Proposed Lake Management Plan was crafted in accordance with the ‘Procedures for Stocking Non-native Fish Species in the Upper Colorado River Basin’, a cooperative agreement between program partners.

The goal of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program is the recovery of four endangered fish found only in the Upper Colorado River Basin, the razorback sucker, bonytail chub, humpback chub and the Colorado pikeminnow.

“We developed the management plan with input we received at a public meeting in 2010 and comments we have received since then,” said CPW Aquatic Biologist Lori Martin. “Public feedback was critical to form what we feel is a very good vision for future fisheries management of Rifle Gap.”

Rifle Gap Reservoir currently features both cold and cool/warm water species, including rainbow and brown trout, walleye, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, northern pike and black crappie. Walleye and smallmouth bass have self-sustained in the reservoir since they were stocked by the former Colorado Division of Wildlife in 1972, prior to the existence of the Recovery Program. No additional smallmouth bass, walleye, or any other cool/warm water species have been stocked by state wildlife managers since the initial introduction.

Until the proposed LMP is approved, CPW may not stock any fish species other than trout into Rifle Gap Reservoir, under the terms of the ‘Procedures for Stocking Non-native Fish Species in the Upper Colorado River Basin’.

“CPW will remain judicious in terms of which sport fish species will be stocked and managed as we continue our native fish recovery efforts,” said Northwest Region Senior Aquatic Biologist Sherman Hebein. “That is our responsibility as partners in the program.”

As currently written, the proposed LMP allows for the introduction and management of black crappie, yellow perch, rainbow and brown trout and triploid walleye, all non-native sport fish which are compatible with Recovery Program goals. The triploid version of walleye is sterile and typically grows faster than non-sterile walleye because energy is devoted to growth rather than reproduction. This makes the species attractive to many anglers as well as the Recovery Program.

Because of their severe impacts to native fish, smallmouth bass and northern pike are considered ‘non-compatible’ with recovery efforts. Further introduction or stocking of these species in the Upper Colorado River Basin is strongly discouraged by the Recovery Program.

“This is a good proposed plan and has the potential to lead to an even better fishery than we have now,” said Rifle Gap State Park Manager Brian Palcer. “CPW manages our parks and our wildlife together with the public’s input and cooperation and that worked well as the plan came together; however, we will also need cooperation from the public into the future to maintain Rifle Gap as a destination fishery.”

CPW officials add that the public’s support will not only help with recovery efforts for native fish, it will also facilitate continuing efforts to bring quality sport fishing to Western Colorado.

“We have a biologically sound LMP proposed for Rifle Gap,” said CPW Area Wildlife Manager JT Romatzke. “We thank everyone that has contributed to this plan. We are doing what we can to give our anglers a variety of opportunities while simultaneously meeting the requirements of the Recovery Program.”

The Rifle Gap Reservoir Proposed LMP will undergo a 60-day review process. During this time period, Recovery Program partners will have the opportunity to add comments and revise as necessary before granting final approval.

For more information about the Rifle Gap Proposed Lake Management Plan, visit http://www.cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/RifleGapReservoirManagement.aspx, or contact CPW Aquatic Biologist Lori Martin at lori.martin@state.co.us.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Releases from the Aspinall Unit to Increase Temporarily to Benefit Endangered Fish #ColoradoRiver

May 23, 2014
Black Canyon via the National Park Service

Black Canyon via the National Park Service

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Erik Knight/Justyn Hock):

Reclamation will begin increasing releases from the Aspinall Unit, consisting of Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal reservoirs on the Gunnison River, on May 23, 2014, as required by the Record of Decision for the Aspinall Unit Operations Final Environmental Impact Statement. The increased release will attempt to meet flow targets on the Gunnison River, designed to benefit endangered fish species downstream while continuing to meet the congressionally authorized purposes of the Aspinall Unit.

Beginning on May 23, 2014, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will begin increasing at a minimum of 500 cubic-feet-per-second a day resulting in flows through the canyon of around 9,000 cfs on June 2, 2014. Flows will remain at or above 8,000 cfs for 10 days before incrementally decreasing toward a range of 4000 cfs to 5000 cfs by the middle of June 2014.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


Blue River “State of the River” meeting recap #ColoradoRiver

May 10, 2014
Blue River

Blue River

From the Summit Daily News (Ali Langley):

About 80 people — water managers, weather experts, government officials and interested community members — attended the event hosted by the Colorado River District at the Community Center in Frisco Tuesday, May 6. Discussion revolved around snowpack, runoff, flooding and the state water plan…

[Joanna Hopkins, board president of Blue River Watershed Group] spoke about the group’s restoration project of Ten Mile Creek, impacted by decades of mining, railroads, highways and development, and presented before and after photos of the work. The group will now focus attention on restoration of the Upper Swan River Watershed, where dredge boats in the early 20th century mined for 2 miles and the group and its partners will work to turn the river “right side up.”[...]

[Troy Wineland, water commissioner for the Blue River basin] pointed to a graph and asked the audience to consider this year’s snowpack levels. “What does that surplus, that bonus, that cream on the top, what does that mean to you?” he said. Better rafting, some said. Fishing. Full reservoirs…

Bob Steger, water resources engineer with Denver Water, discussed Dillon Reservoir operations. The utility’s main priorities for the reservoir are maintaining its water supply and reducing flood risk, he said, but it also considers boating, rafting, kayaking, fishing, endangered fish and its upcoming construction project.

The utility began lowering the reservoir level in late February, just like in other high-snowpack years, he said. Going forward, the reservoir will start filling in mid-May or June, depending on whether the spring is wet or dry.

The Roberts Tunnel, which brings water from Dillon to Denver, won’t be turned on until mid-June or July, he said, and the utility will replace the large gates that control outflow to the Blue River likely sometime between August and October…

Ron Thomasson, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation who oversees Green Mountain Reservoir operations, said he expects to fill that reservoir in mid-July.

He talked about how more runoff will improve habitat for four endangered fish species in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River and showed his “obligatory snowpack graph.” Then he presented spaghetti plots to explain that when experts say “most probable scenario” what they really mean is, “It’s actually no more probable than any other scenario. It just happens to be in the middle.”[...]

explained the rare conditions that combined to cause record-breaking flooding in the Boulder area in September. Then he switched to the “crazy winter that you just lived through” in Summit and what to expect in the six- to eight-week runoff season produced by seven months of snow.

He joked about the polar vortex, a phenomenon that’s been around forever but didn’t make the media until this winter, and he showed more spaghetti plots saying, “Those averages are beautiful. They give us something to think about. They never happen.”

Those excited about a surplus should remember the rest of the state is experiencing drought conditions. “You fared well,” he said. “It’s not always going to work that way, so please be grateful.”

Then he asked for volunteers to help collect real-time precipitation data with rain gauges for http://cocorahs.org.

Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable that represents Summit and five other counties, emphasized problems with low levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead and focused on the state water plan, which the roundtable is helping to create.

Of the 14 states in the West, Colorado is one of four without a water plan. The other three are Washington, Oregon and Arizona…

“Transmountain diversion should be the last tool out of the box,” he said. “Conservation and reuse needs to be hit hard.”

If a new transmountain diversion must be constructed, it should be done along the lines of the recent agreement between West Slope stakeholders and Denver Water.

One audience member asked why reducing population growth wasn’t one of the considered solutions. Most of the projected growth “is us having children,” Pokrandt said. “It’s the elephant in the room, but it’s the one that you really can’t touch.”

He said in some parts of the Front Range, the untouchable issue is green grass.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Rio Grande Basin: Water Managers Cooperate to Create Beneficial River Flows, Albuequerque to Elephant Butte #RioGrande

May 5, 2014

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia


Silvery minnows were seen doing backflips over the news that their reach of the Rio Grande is going to get an extra drink.

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Mary Carlson):

Flows on the Rio Grande from Albuquerque to Elephant Butte Reservoir will increase this week in a coordinated effort aimed at triggering a spawn of the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow. This pioneering effort by federal and non-federal water managers will create conditions that haven’t naturally occurred over the last four years due to drought.
The April forecast data released by the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows snowpack volumes well below average throughout southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. The inflow at El Vado Reservoir is expected to be about 64,000 acre-feet of water or about 28 percent of average. This type of coordinated effort is needed to attempt to cue a spawn, as minnow numbers in the critical habitat from Cochiti Dam to just above Elephant Butte Reservoir are at their lowest since populations have been monitored.

The release out of Abiquiu Reservoir increased to about 1,500 cubic-feet-per-second today to begin moving water toward the Middle Rio Grande. The flow out of Cochiti Reservoir will increase to as high as 2,000 cfs, doubling the current release. It will continue for a week, and then be stepped down to the current release. The goal of this flow is to mimic a natural spring runoff peak to encourage the Rio Grande silvery minnow to spawn while still meeting the irrigation needs of the middle valley. The water for this action is being released from reservoirs and will not diminish the available water supply for Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District irrigators.

“This release is the result of focused planning and coordination among water management agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Albuquerque Area Manager Mike Hamman. “It was a tremendous effort by all involved to use what limited water that is available to help create an artificial pulse flow that we hope will trigger a substantial spawn, which hasn’t happened naturally in the last few years due to the severe drought conditions in New Mexico.”

This multi-agency effort was between Reclamation, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, who agreed to an exchange that provided the largest portion of the water, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, the city of Albuquerque, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. The Middle Rio Grande Pueblos Coalition is also working closely with Reclamation to assist in this effort.

“Creating a successful spawn of silvery minnow while still meeting the needs of our farmers and cities is a remarkable accomplishment,” said Estevan Lopez, Director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. “We are proud of this innovative effort and the hard work of all the people involved. This success was only possible through collaboration in the middle Rio Grande valley and demonstrates New Mexico’s ability to work through another summer of drought.”

The approximately 18,000 acre-feet of water to be used for the peak flow came from two sources. About 12,000 acre-feet came from an exchange whereby water held in storage last year on behalf of the six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos that went unused and would have been released last fall was exchanged at Elephant Butte with the Water Authority for San Juan-Chama water. Updated sediment studies at Abiquiu Reservoir led to the discovery of an additional 6,000 acre feet of water which must now move down to Elephant Butte.

Water managers and biologists have been preparing for this since the beginning of the year. A similar effort was underway in 2013, but could not be attempted due to extremely low river flows. Conditions are now more favorable and recent meetings have focused on the logistics of the release for the best possible timing. It is important that river temperatures are warm enough to allow for minnow spawning and that there is enough natural flow in the river to allow the majority of this water to reach Elephant Butte. Crews will be in the river to gather some of the minnow eggs as part of the FWS’s Southwestern Native Aquatic Resources & Recovery Center propagation program and for the city of Albuquerque BioPark. Other eggs will hopefully hatch in the river to help maintain the wild population. MRGCD is coordinating with egg collection crews and adjusting its intake structures as necessary to avoid accidental entrainment of eggs it in its system.

A similar high flow was released from El Vado on April 25-28 for overall ecosystem improvement on the Rio Chama. In that case, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District agreed to allow its water to be moved down and held at Abiquiu Reservoir for use in the Middle Rio Grande in the coming months. ABCWUA allowed MRGCD to use some of its storage space in Abiquiu. The flow reached 2,000 cfs for about 24 hours before being gradually reduced.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


San Luis Valley county commissioners unite against endangered listing for the Rio Grande Cutthroat

April 28, 2014
Rio Grande cutthroat trout   via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Rio Grande cutthroat trout via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

Without a doubt, the Valley’s six governments are against the potential Rio Grande Cutthroat (RGCT) endangered species listing. The San Luis Valley County Commissioners Association (VCC) unanimously decided Monday to add its organizational name to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between 10 county governments stating there is no need to list the species.

In addition to the six Valley counties – Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Mineral, Rio Grande and Saguache – Hinsdale, Las Animas, San Juan and Archuleta Counties also have a signatory line on the MOU. To date, Rio Grande, Conejos, Mineral, Saguache and Hinsdale have already made the commitment on paper.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) continues to find listing the RGCT warranted but precluded, according to the Federal Register , Fri. Nov. 22, 2013. The agency, however, is working on a proposed listing rule expected to publish soon.

“The deadline has come and gone,” said Tom Spezze, who is heading up the local RGCT listing fight. The delay, he said, is “good news for us” because having the MOU in place prior to the decision shows a “stronger level of commitment” and allows the VCC to use its “political horsepower.”

The ruling, an initial recommendation on whether the Valley’s historical breed of fish , which is also found in New Mexico, will classify the species as endangered, threatened or not warranted for listing.

Spezze and Hinsdale County, whose government is acting as the campaign’s fiscal agent, also asked each county to contribute some funding to the effort. According to Hinsdale County Commissioner Cindy Dozier, about $23,000 – roughly $3,000 from each county – is needed for both Spezze’s work and legal counsel.

“We did this (became the fiscal agent) in good faith because we believe all the counties will get on board,” Dozier said.

Before the counties offer up any money, a financial subcommittee will form and discuss contributions.

“We need to take this back to individual counties and see what our finances are,” said Alamosa County Commissioner Darius Allen.

His fellow commissioner Michel Yohn added, “This (the potential listing) does affect us tremendously. I see more costs coming. As counties, we need to realize this.”

The implications from an endangered or threatened listing for any species can vary from jeopardizing tourism dollars due to changes in the public’s access to public lands to land owners having to enter into agreements prioritizing the species existence , actual or potential.

“The RGCT are what we say they are,” Spezze said. “There is a 90 to 95-percent genetic confidence . There are no lineage crossovers.”

Listings also come along with the identification of critical habitat, which calls for special management and protection, and can include an area the species does not currently occupy, but will be needed for its recovery.

“There are impacts beyond the RGCT,” said Travis Smith, San Luis Valley Irrigation District manager and Colorado Water Conservation Board member. “We are in a place right now to send a strong message about a culture change. It transcends more than just fishing.”

Streams historically capable of supporting the RGCT that the FWS could deem critical habitat include Rio Grande, Pecos and Canadian River Basins, according to CPW data, and presently the fish only occupy about 11 percent of the historic waters. There are 127 RGCT conservation populations range wide, which includes the model efforts of the Trinchera Ranch to keep the species thriving in its creeks. Spezze added that should the RGCT make the endangered species list it is not foolish to think senior water rights could be affected in the future.

“We can’t just bury our heads in the sand,” said Rio Grande Commissioner Karla Shriver. “Every county should look at it seriously, and as a group we can do more. Maybe we can proactively stop this? We need to protect our constituents. We need to give them a voice.” For the past 40 years, the Valley has spent dollars state, federal and private to keep the RGCT alive and well for reasons spanning from recreation to genetic diversity protection, fending off a species status change on several occasions.

In 1973, the species was listed as a threatened species in Colorado, and removed in 1984. Fourteen years later, a federal petition was filed under the Endangered Species Act, and it was contested in court in 2002. In 2007, the RGCT was reviewed, and a year later the FWS found the listing was warranted, but precluded. Between 2003 and 2011, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Conservation Team expended $792,000 on RGCT conservation efforts , according to CPW data, including surveying RGCT populations, establishing conservation populations, erecting barriers preventing species contamination, stocking genetically pure RGCT populations and working with other agencies and groups to ensure there are sufficient instream flows to support native fish and their required habitat.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Northern Water books $40.3 million in revenue in 2013

March 29, 2014
Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Revenue increased about $10.5 million for the year ended Sept. 30 primarily because Berthoud-based Northern Water received nearly $9 million from Front Range water entities, including Denver Water, Aurora Water and the Pueblo Board of Water works, for water releases from Granby Reservoir.

Northern Water provides water to portions of eight Colorado counties with a population of 860,000 people and serves more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land.

Last year, Northern Water completed several contracts and agreements related to the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. The goal of the program is to recover four unique fish species listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

Because they divert water from the Colorado River, Northern Water and other water users have made a permanent commitment to release 10,825 acre-feet of water annually. Northern Water releases more than 5,400 acre feet from the Granby Reservoir to support the project. An acre foot equals 326,000 gallons and is enough to serve 2.5 households annually.

The one-time compensation paid to Northern Water for the project came this year, according to the annual report. Northern Water’s expenses for the project came in previous years, said John Budde, financial services department manager for Northern Water…

Northern Water ended 2013 with $241.6 million in assets compared with. $231.4 million in assets in 2012. The organization also had $26.5 million in liabilities last year compared with $29 million in liabilities the prior year.

The organization had expenses of $29.2 million in 2013, down from $31.2 million in 2012.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Colorado signs on to Rio Grande cutthroat trout conservation agreement

March 8, 2014
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and wildlife:

An updated conservation agreement and strategy plan to protect the Rio Grande cutthroat trout was recently signed by the states of Colorado and New Mexico, three Native American tribes and several federal agencies.

The agencies started working on range-wide protection plans for the species in 2003. This is a continuation of the initial agreement, but also assures that the agencies will work cooperatively to maintain the viability of this special species of trout. The agreement provides overall guidance to each agency and sets a conservation strategy that will be used in Colorado and New Mexico where significant populations of the fish exist.

“This is a voluntary agreement, but all the parties are dedicated to working on important Rio Grande cutthroat trout issues,” said John Alves, southwest region senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The agencies that signed the agreement are: Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the BLM, the National Park Service, the Jicarilla-Apache Nation, the Mescalero-Apache Nation, and the Taos Pueblo tribe. The effort is also being supported by Colorado Trout Unlimited and the New Mexico Council of Trout Unlimited.

As stated in the agreement, the goal of the new 10-year plan is to “assure long-term viability of Rio Grande cutthroat trout throughout its historic range by minimizing or removing threats to the species and promoting conservation.” The agencies have completed numerous conservations projects for the species throughout Colorado and New Mexico. To read about some of the projects, go to: http://cpw.state.co.us/Research/Aquatic/CutthroatTrout/Pages/CutthroatTrout.aspx.

The trout has been a candidate for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act since 2008. A decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on whether the species will be listed is scheduled for September.

The Rio Grande cutthroat is classified as a species of “greatest conservation need” by New Mexico, and as a “species of special concern” in Colorado. The agencies are working cooperatively to protect the populations to keep the species healthy. The cooperative effort might also provide the advantage of keeping the fish off of the federal endangered species list.

The fish is found primarily in high elevation streams and lakes of the Rio Grande, the Canadian River and the Pecos River in Colorado and New Mexico. It now only occupies just 12 percent of its historic habitat in approximately 800 miles of streams. Biologists estimate that 127 conservation populations now exist in the two states, and 57 of those populations are considered to be secure.

The historic range of Rio Grande cutthroat trout has been reduced over the last 150 years due to many changes on the landscape, including: drought, water infrastructure, habitat changes, hydraulic changes, hybridization with rainbow trout and other species of cutthroat trout, and competition with brown trout and brook trout. As a result of these changes, Rio Grande cutthroat trout populations are restricted primarily to headwater streams.

“This agreement provides a detailed road map of the ways local, state, federal and tribal agencies will work together to continue to conserve this trout,” said Kirk Patten, assistant chief of fisheries for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. “The Rio Grande cutthroat trout is unique. It is found only in the southwest and has the distinction of being the southernmost distribution of any form of cutthroat trout.”

For more than 20 years, agency biologists have been searching for Rio Grande cutthroat populations, studying habitat and restoring the species to streams. That work and more will continue under the conservation agreement.

Some of the work that the agencies will conduct includes: maintenance of Rio Grande cutthroat brood stock; stream surveys and habitat improvement; construction of barriers to keep non-native trout out of conservation waters; removal of non-native fish and restocking with this species; testing for disease; conducting genetic analysis; fencing sensitive riparian areas; and on-going monitoring of populations.

The agencies will meet annually to discuss projects and progress, and to plan conservation work. A full range-wide species assessment will be conducted every five years.

“Rio Grande cutthroat trout are facing many issues, including habitat loss, competition from the introduction of non-native trout, drought, fire and other changes,” Alves said. “A major, coordinated effort like this one is what’s needed to maintain this important species.”

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.


After a long absence, humpback chub have been reintroduced to Havasu Creek in the Grand Canyon #ColoradoRiver

February 27, 2014

Environment: Ambitious Swan River restoration project near Breckenridge could benefit cutthroat trout

February 24, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Forest Service wants to reconnect an aquatic ecosystem that was sliced apart by dredges in the mining era

Restoration plans are afoot for a degraded section of the Swan River, in Summit County, Colorado.

Restoration plans are afoot for a degraded section of the Swan River, in Summit County, Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For all the gold Summit County’s old-timers managed to pull from local mountains and rivers, they left behind quite a mess. Along with toxic pollution oozing into rivers from some abandoned mines, other streams were turned completely inside-out, buried under tons of gravel.

That includes the Swan River, near Breckenridge, where the U.S. Forest Service now hopes to reverse some of the damage with an ambitious five- to 10-year restoration project.

The Forest Service aims to recreate of two miles of stream, riparian, and restore uplands that were all destroyed by the dredge boats. The agency also wants to decommission some roads in the area, build a new road and trail…

View original 339 more words


Endangered species listing for the Rio Grande cutthroat?

February 10, 2014
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

Another possible endangered species listing is placing a high demand on the Valley’s resources, and it’s more than caught the attention of the six county governments. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) continues to find listing the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout (RGCT) warranted but precluded , according to the Federal Register, Fri. Nov. 22, 2013. The agency, however, is working on a proposed listing rule expected to publish prior to making the next annual resubmitted petition 12-month finding.

The ruling, an initial recommendation on whether the Valley’s historical breed of fish, which is also found in New Mexico, is endangered, threatened or not warranted for listing, is scheduled for September, according to agency officials. For the next few months, the FWS will continue to monitor new information about the RGCT in addition to considering public comments.

On Monday, the San Luis Valley County Commissioners Association (CCA) devoted much time to learn about the condition of the RGCT, and moved to set a work session in February to decide how they would support the long time Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) led Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Conservation Team (RGCT CT) efforts to keep the RGCT off any lists.

The RGCT CT’s findings and strategy suggest the potential listing is inappropriate , and an action that could affect the Valley’s economy and public and private land use while costing the six Valley counties thousands of dollars to accommodate on top of costs only starting to add up to fight a threatened or endangered ruling.

For the past 40 years, the Valley has spent dollars state, federal and private to keep the RGCT alive and well for reasons spanning from recreation to genetic diversity protection, fending off a species status change on several occasions.

In 1973, the species was listed as a threatened species in Colorado, and removed in 1984. Fourteen years later, a federal petition was filed under the Endangered Species Act, and it was contested in court in 2002. In 2007, the RGCT was reviewed, and a year later the FWS found the listing was warranted, but precluded.

Between 2003 and 2011, CPW expended $792,000 on RGCT conservation efforts, according to CPW data, including surveying RGCT populations, establishing conservation populations, erecting barriers preventing species contamination, stocking genetically pure RGCT populations and working with other agencies and groups to ensure there are sufficient instream flows to support native fish and their required habitat.

The RGCT CT’s undertakings are ongoing, and the group heads into 2014 monitoring 10 conservation populations and documenting new RGCT populations throughout the area, said CPW Senior Aquatic Biologist John Alves on Monday. Longtime broodstock development also continues at Haypress Lake. Since 2005, CPW has stocked 86,000 to 143,000 RGCT in high lakes and streams for angler recreation or to create new conservation populations.

RGCT CT activities, Alves added, include genetic testing to determine species, purity and level of introgression with other cutthroat species. Populations with more than 90 percent RGCT are considered conservation populations and populations with more than 99 percent RGCT are considered core conservation populations used for developing broodstocks or new populations. Other activities, he said, are focused on habitat improvement using man-made barriers to secure RGCT populations from non-native fish, replacing culverts and mitigating livestock grazing and logging in addition to a myriad of public outreach initiatives.

Other federal and state agency funded conservation plans taking into consideration water, land and their uses that do not directly address RGCT habitat and population, but support the productivity of the Valley’s ecosystem as a whole, are already helping to maintain and preserve the environmental condition of the downstream land if the fish was capable of living in the warmer river waters cutting through the Rio Grande Basin. The RGCT CT and its supporters do not foresee such a scenario unfolding because the species is primarily found in cold streams and lakes.

“The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD ) does not believe listing the RGCT as an endangered species is warranted in light of the current status of the RGCT and ongoing voluntary conservation efforts,” RGWCD General Manger Steve Vandiver stated in a letter to the FWS presented at the CAA meeting. “The RGWCD has supported the ongoing voluntary conservation efforts in the San Luis Valley and in the Rio Grande Headwaters.”

The voluntary efforts are the doing of governments and agencies in Colorado and New Mexico including the CPW, the FWS, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management , the National Park Service, the Jicarilla Apache Nation,the Mescalero Apache Nation and the Taos Pueblo Waterchief. Colorado Trout Unlimited, New Mexico Council of Trout Unlimited and the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Team (RWEACT) also support the efforts the CCA is considering signing onto next month in addition to looking at other possible county actions regarding listings based on a model partially started in the Valley.

Saguache County is facing the possible listing of the Gunnison Sage Grouse, an action that would touch 11 other Colorado counties. The governments, working with active sage-grouse groups including the Poncha Pass Gunnison Sage-Grouse Work Group, united last year to revise the species’ needs and actions to date, revisit strategy and consider the impacts of future federal intervention like potential road closures.

The collaborative, whose methods are appealing to the CCA and neighboring sage-grouse and RGCT listing threatened Hinsdale County, has made progress with the recent reintroduction of several sage-grouse on Poncha Pass, and they are maintaining . The FWS will be made aware of the reintroduction’s progress before making a ruling in March.

“The implications of a listing are very huge,” said Hindsdale County Commissioner Cindy Dozier about creating government, agency and community task forces via telephone during Monday’s meeting. “There are things we can do.”

The implications from an endangered or threatened listing for any species can vary from jeopardizing tourism dollars due to changes in the public’s access to public lands to land owners having to enter into agreements prioritizing the species existence, actual or potential. Listings also come along with the identification of critical habitat, which calls for special management and protection, and include an area the species does not currently occupy, but will be needed for its recovery.

“Designating critical habitat outside the area currently occupied by RGCT would create an additional hardship for the residents of the San Luis Valley without providing any additional benefit to the RGCT,” Vandiver stated. “These residents already face the effect of a prolonged drought and the risk that the state may seek to restrict or curtail the operation of their irrigation wells, thus making it nearly impossible to continue successful farming or ranching operations.”

Streams historically capable of supporting the RGCT that the FWS could deem critical habitat include Rio Grande, Pecos and Canadian River Basins, according to CPW data, and presently the fish only occupy about 11 percent of the historic waters. There are 127 RGCT conservation populations range wide.

Some RGCT populations thrive on private Costilla County lands like the Trinchera Ranch, Alves said. Ute Creek, where the species was first discovered in 1857, runs through the now FWS conservation easement protected ranch, further complementing its reputation for protecting natural resources.

“This is a reason we have a good start on the conservation itself,” said Alves, commending the Trinchera Ranch for its vision to protect the RGCT, which some science points out is truly being conserved because of the introduction and poor management of nonnative trout species.

“The most significant threats are the presence of non-native trout and habitat loss,” stated Council of Trout Unlimited New Mexico Chair Arnold Atkins and Colorado Chair Rick Matsumoto in a letter to the FWS. “The effects of the presence of brown trout in a cutthroat stream have been documented in the scientific literature, and the experience of our members bears out what the literature tells us: once brown trout enter a stream, the native cutthroat disappear or are dramatically reduced in numbers, typically within a decade or less.”

In Colorado, and to a lesser degree in New Mexico, according to the Trout Unlimited letter, the presence of nonnative brook trout has had a similar effect.

“Hybridization with nonnative rainbow trout or other cutthroat subspecies remains a significant threat, although the agencies have taken steps to reduce it, including stocking triploid rainbows or not stocking rainbows at all in watersheds where RGCT are found,” the chairmen wrote. “… Trout Unlimited’s objective is to ensure that the RGCT continues to exist and that RGCT populations are protected and restored over a broader and more resilient range of waters.”

The FWS is accepting comments at the following address : Susan Rogers Oetker, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 1875 Century Blvd. NE Suite 200, Atlanta, Ga., 30345.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Environment:: Some good news for endangered Colorado River fish

February 9, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Recovery stakeholders find permanent sources of water to sustain needed late summer and autumn flows

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Endangered Colorado River Fish will benefit from permanent sources of water earmarked for a collaborative recovery effort. Click on the image to visit the recovery project website.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Four endangered native fish species in the Upper Colorado River may have a little better chance a long-term survival, as stakeholders in a collaborative recovery program found permanent sources of water needed to protect aquatic habitat for the the fish.

Water previously provided from Williams Fork and Wolford reservoirs to benefit endangered fish recovery has been replaced with permanent sources at a cost of about $25 million. The water will come from Ruedi Reservoir (5,412.5 acre-feet) and  from Granby Reservoir (5,412.5 acre-feet). The releases from Granby Reservoir will also benefit flow conditions and water quality upstream of endangered fish habitat.

View original 344 more words


Water needs of minnow not met, environmentalists say — Albuquerque Journal

February 7, 2014

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia


From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

The “notices of intent” allege violations of the federal Endangered Species Act and start a 60-day clock ticking toward possible litigation. The notices highlight growing tensions between human water use and the Rio Grande’s natural ecosystem in what is shaping up to be the fourth consecutive year of drought, and set the stage for potentially bruising litigation this summer.

Human water diversions have left the Rio Grande ecosystem with too little water to maintain the minnow and other species that depend on the river’s flow, including the valley’s iconic cottonwoods, said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers Program coordinator for WildEarth Guardians.

Last year, the group filed a formal “notice of intent” that triggered negotiations with federal officials over environmental issues and river management, without litigation. Asked if WildEarth Guardians plans to actually file suit this time, Pelz on Tuesday said, “Yes.”

Spokesmen for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the two agencies named in the new filings, declined comment.

Human management of the Rio Grande, with dams upstream to regulate the river’s flow and levees to confine it to a narrow channel, have substantially changed the habitat for the minnow. The fish once lived from Española to the Gulf of Mexico, but is now only found in central New Mexico.

Low river runoff has caused minnow populations to crash further in recent years, according to data collected for the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative program, a joint effort by local, state and federal water managers and users.

The potential for a fourth straight drought year poses serious risk for the endangered species, Pelz said in an interview. “The minnow has not spawned in the last three years,” Pelz said, “which is crucial to their recovery and survival.”

More than 95 percent of the fish found in surveys last summer came from hatcheries, which are being used to augment the dwindling natural fish population…

While the Endangered Species Act focuses on specific species, especially the minnow, more is at risk than just a single kind of fish, Pelz said. “The cottonwood forest is reliant on flood flows, and there being enough water in the river,” she said.

Water managers say they have been doing their best to meet the needs of the environment and farmers and other human water users, given the limited supply nature has to offer.

“We’re trying to find creative ways to get everyone what they need,” said David Gensler, water manager for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the valley’s largest farm irrigation water provider.

Among the possibilities is the use of upstream dams to manage flows to create high flows in late spring for spawning, according to Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, Rio Grande basin manager for the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. But no decisions about that can be made until April or May, Schmidt-Petersen said…

With a 60-day clock now started, WildEarth Guardians’ filings raise the possibility that key late spring water management decisions will be made in the midst of federal litigation, University of New Mexico law professor Reed Benson, an Endangered Species Act expert, pointed out. But it is not clear whether there is time for the court fight to influence how much water is used by humans or left in the river for fish in 2014, Benson said.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


“Colorado’s obligations under the ESA are ‘above and beyond’ the requirements of the compact” — Wildearth Guardians

February 3, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Taos News (J.R. Logan):

Wildearth Guardians has given notice that it plans to sue the state of Colorado over the amount of water pumped out of the Río Grande before it crosses into New Mexico each year. The group argues that irrigation in the San Luís Valley leaves so little water in the river that it imperils habitat of two endangered species — the Río Grande silvery minnow and the Southwestern willow flycatcher.
Jennifer Pelz with Wildearth Guardians told The Taos News that while the lawsuit is based on requirements under the Endangered Species Act, it is meant to address the health of the Río Grande in general. “My focus is the river, the silvery minnow just happens to be the canary in the coal mine,” Pelz said.
Sporadic flows in the Río Grande have long alarmed environmentalists because of the effect on vegetation and wildlife that have adapted to the natural cycle of ups and down. The current drought has left some parts of the Río Grande dry, and diversions up and down the river have significantly altered its natural pattern.

River guides in Taos County have also taken issue with how water in the river is managed. Some have pointed out that Colorado irrigators pull out as much as 98 percent of the river during peak irrigation season, which often coincides with rafting season. They contend that low flows are killing business and hurting the local economy.

However, Colorado farmers point out that the drought is hurting them as well. Officials there point out that the state is still meeting its obligations under the Río Grande Compact, which spells out exactly how much water Colorado must deliver to the state line every year.
The notice from Wildearth Guardians contends that Colorado’s obligations under the Endangered Species Act are “above and beyond” the requirements of the compact.

Pelz said the notice is meant to bring Colorado into the discussion with wildlife managers and irrigation districts in New Mexico to talk about how to manage flows for the health of the river. “We’ve always known that [Colorado] had a role,” Pelz said. “Now is the time that everything is on the table.”

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here and here. More Rio Grande silvery minnow coverage here.


Water Sources for endangered fishes in Colorado

February 1, 2014

New Yorker podcast: Elizabeth Kolbert on the Sixth Great Extinction

January 24, 2014
Arapahoe snowfly

Arapahoe snowfly

From the New Yorker (click through to listen to the podcast):

Elizabeth Kolbert is a staff writer who is perhaps best known for her reporting on global warming. In 2006, after a series on the subject in the magazine, she published her book “Field Notes from a Catastrophe.” Her reporting on climate change led her to investigate species extinction, which climate change is exacerbating. According to many scientists, we are now in the midst of the sixth great extinction, a massive die-off of species around the globe. In recent issues, The New Yorker has published pieces by Kolbert on species extinction, from chapters in her forthcoming book, “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.” Here, she talks to Sasha Weiss about the enormity of the problem. Also, Calvin Trillin samples the hot tamale on the Delta.

Thanks to Dave Winer for the link. Here’s his reaction to the podcast. Here’s an excerpt:

First, there’s nothing special about humanity. We’ve only been here about 200,000 years. Long enough to destroy everything, but in the grand scheme of things, when the destruction is finished, the planet will probably evolve new species, a different cast of characters, that do what we do, more or less. It may take tens or hundreds of millions of years to clean up after us. But this is not a problem for the planet. It has the time.

We may be insignificant, but what we are doing re destruction of the planet’s ecology is unprecedented. It’s never before happened here. We don’t know about other planets elsewhere in our galaxy or the universe. But we’re in the process of recreating climates that haven’t existed on earth for 50 million years. That’s something. Not something to be proud of, of course.

Second, the mundane things we do every day, the example she provided was driving to get groceries, are actually totally extraordinary. When we get in the car to run errands we’re burning the bodies of animals that lived millions of years ago. We’re moving the carbon from their bodies from deep below the earth, into the atmosphere and the oceans, transforming them. Destroying old habitats, and creating new ones. This is not something that “natural” processes do. You need a supposedly intelligent species to do this.

Her book is coming out next month. Asked if she was suggesting things we might do to solve the problem, in the book, she says she is deliberately not doing that. My guess is the reason for that is the next epiphany that hit me after digesting a bit of the podcast.

Third, there is nothing we can do. We might as well enjoy consuming the last resources of the planet, and perhaps should turn our attention to leaving an adequate record of our civilization for the next one to come along, millions of years from now, in the hope of helping them avoid the catastrophe that ended us.

BTW, in case you’re feeling guilty — don’t. This process was not caused by anything we consciously did. Certainly not anything you or I did. Just the existence of a species capable of doing such big things was probably enough to destroy life on the planet. You can listen to the podcast and let me know if you hear anything different. It seems this story is full of revelations about our reality.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Colorado Parks and Wildlife to honor 2013 Landowners of the Year

January 23, 2014

Greater sage-grouse via Idaho Fish and Game

Greater sage-grouse via Idaho Fish and Game


Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife will honor two winners as Landowners of the Year for 2013 before the Pro Rodeo at the National Western Stock Show on Thursday, Jan. 23. The 2013 Landowners of the Year are Bord Gulch Ranch Manager Ray Owens and Turkey Creek Ranch owners Gary and Georgia Walker.

Owens manages the sprawling 15,000+ acre Bord Gulch Ranch in northwest Colorado’s Moffat County. The ranch is prime habitat for greater sage-grouse and mule deer, winters thousands of elk, and is a year-round home to dozens of other species. Owens works closely with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and wildlife conservation groups to manage the traditional ranching property in a way that benefits the area’s native wildlife.

Gary and Georgia Walker’s approximately 65,000 acre Turkey Creek Ranch property is prime short grass prairie and agricultural riparian lands west of Pueblo. The Walkers have managed the property as successful ranchers and as stewards of the native wildlife for more than 50 years. In late 2013, they became the first private landowners in the state to release black-footed ferrets onto their private property under a safe-harbor agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Black-footed ferrets were once dubbed “the most endangered animal in North America,” and remain incredibly rare in the wild.

“Ray Owens and the Walkers are proof that private landowners can do amazing things for wildlife in ways that government cannot,” said Bob Broscheid, Director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We are pleased to join them at the National Western Stockshow and honor their efforts and the efforts of all the private landowners in the state.”

Colorado is known by sportsmen around the world for its 23 million acres of public lands, but four of every 10 acres in the state are privately owned. Private lands are critical to maintaining populations of mule deer, pronghorn, elk, sage-grouse, prairie falcons and a host of grassland species. Privately held water rights, held in reservoirs and released into streams, supports both warm- and cold-water sport fishing across the state.

The Wildlife Landowner of the Year Award is part of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Landowner Recognition Program, which has worked to highlight exemplary land management practices and recognize landowners who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in wildlife conservation since 1982.

Nominees for Landowner of the Year must be residents of Colorado or own at least 160 acres in the state, and be actively engaged in farming or ranching business as owners, lessors, lessees, or managers. Evaluations are based on a range of criteria, including current land management practices, wildlife habitat improvements, accommodations for public hunting and fishing access and leadership in the promotion of sound wildlife practices on private lands.

“Farming and ranching families have a connection to the land,” said Ken Morgan, Private Lands Program Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “They know that sound soil, water and vegetation management practices benefit their agricultural operations and also benefit wildlife. The health of the land is not an abstract concept to them and that’s worth celebrating.”

More conservation coverage here.


Wild and scenic designation for the Dolores River?

January 14, 2014
Dolores River near Bedrock

Dolores River near Bedrock

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

New management plans by the BLM and Forest Service upgrade the status of two native fish, and list new sections of the river as “preliminarily suitable” for a Wild and Scenic designation.

Roy Smith, a BLM water specialist, explained that the suitability status for the Lower Dolores from the dam to Bedrock has been in place since a 1976, and the special status was reaffirmed in a recently released public lands management plan.

“It qualifies because below the dam, the lower Dolores is a free-flowing stream that has outstandingly remarkable values (ORVs),” he said. “A common misconception is that suitability means we can wave a wand and make it Wild and Scenic, but that is not true. That takes congressional action.”

The 1976 suitability study noted that the Dolores is compatible with a Wild and Scenic designation, and “McPhee dam will enhance and complement such designation.”

ORVs are obscure and sometimes controversial assessments that identify river-related natural values. They are an indication that a river could qualify as a Wild and Scenic River in the future. In the meantime, their natural values are protected in management plans.

In their recent management plan, the BLM and Forest Service upped the ante, adding the bluehead and flannelmouth suckers to ORV standard list, which already includes the bonytail chub.

The Colorado Water Conservation board also believes native fish on the river deserve additional help. They propose to issue a new in-stream flow requirement for a 34-mile section of the river from the confluence with the San Miguel River to the Gateway community.

Ted Kowalski, a CWCB water resource specialist, explained that the new instream flow is proposed to improve habitat conditions for native fish.

“In-stream flows are designed to protect the natural hydrographs on the river, and we feel they are better than top-down river management from the federal side,” Kowalski said. “The proposed instream flows on that section of the Dolores are timed to accommodate spawning needs for native fish.”

Required peak flows reach 900 cfs during spring runoff, and then taper off. Most of the water would be provided by the San Miguel River, an upstream tributary…

The Dolores Water Conservation Board and the Southwestern Water Conservation board objected to the changes, fearing the move could force more water to be released downstream. They have filed appeals and protests to stop them.

Even the preliminary Wild and Scenic status on the Dolores is strongly opposed by McPhee Reservoir operators because if officially designated, Wild and Scenic rivers come with a federally reserved water right, which would also force more water to be released from the dam.

Jeff Kane, an attorney representing SWCD, said adding two native fish as ORVs was unexpected and unfair to a local collaborative process working to identify and protect native fish needs…

Accusations that federal agencies and the CWCB hijacked a 10-year-long, grass-roots effort to protect the Dolores were expressed at the meeting, which was attended by 80 local and regional officials…

A diverse stakeholder group, the Dolores River Working Group, is proposing to make the Lower Dolores River into a National Conservation Area through future legislation. As part of the deal, suitability status for Wild and Scenic on the Lower Dolores River would be dropped.

“It is still worthwhile to get our proposal out there,” said Amber Kelley, Dolores River coordinator for the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance. “We should continue to move forward in our collaborative effort despite the concerns about the BLM changes.”

More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.


Does the Endangered Species Act Preempt State Water Law? — Robin Kundis Craig

January 7, 2014

The trouble(s) with water and the Endangered Species Act

December 29, 2013
Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

The trouble(s) with water and the Endangered Species Act. Here’s an excerpt:

One of the most important ”river law” topics is the application of the Endangered Species Act to water management and use. The ESA is a crucial law for western rivers because it has been far more influential than anything else in making the environment a relevant factor in water management, especially in the operation of federal water projects. And federal river restoration efforts are overwhelmingly driven by ESA considerations.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Funding Opportunity Available to Increase Water Conservation or Improve Water Supply Sustainability

December 9, 2013
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation is making funding available through its WaterSMART program to support new Water and Energy Efficiency Grant projects. Proposals are being sought from states, Indian tribes, irrigation districts, water districts and other organizations with water or power delivery authority to partner with Reclamation on projects that increase water conservation or result in other improvements that address water supply sustainability in the West.

The funding opportunity announcement is available at http://www.grants.gov using funding opportunity number R14AS00001.

Applications may be submitted to one of two funding groups:

  • Funding Group I: Up to $300,000 will be available for smaller projects that may take up to two years to complete. It is expected that a majority of awards will be made in this funding group.
  • Funding Group II: Up to $1,000,000 will be available for larger, phased projects that will take up to three years to complete. No more than $500,000 in federal funds will be provided within a given fiscal year to complete each phase. This will provide an opportunity for larger, multiple-year projects to receive some funding in the first year without having to compete for funding in the second and third years.
  • Proposals must seek to conserve and use water more efficiently, increase the use of renewable energy, improve energy efficiency, benefit endangered and threatened species, facilitate water markets, carry out activities to address climate-related impacts on water or prevent any water-related crisis or conflict. To view examples of previous successful applications, including projects with a wide-range of eligible activities, please visit http://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/weeg.

    In 2013, Reclamation awarded more than $20 million for 44 Water and Energy Efficiency Grants. These projects were estimated to save about 100,000 acre-feet of water per year — enough water to serve a population of about 400,000 people.

    The WaterSMART Program focuses on improving water conservation, sustainability and helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use. It identifies strategies to ensure that this and future generations will have sufficient supplies of clean water for drinking, economic activities, recreation and ecosystem health. The program also identifies adaptive measures to address climate change and its impact on future water demands.

    Proposals must be submitted as indicated on http://www.grants.gov by 4 p.m., Mountain Standard Time, Jan. 23, 2014. It is anticipated that awards will be made this spring.

    To learn more about WaterSMART please visit http://www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART.

    More Bureau of Reclamation coverage here.


    ‘Denver-West Slope water agreement finally final’ — Glenwood Springs Post Independent #ColoradoRiver

    December 4, 2013
    Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

    Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

    Denver can take a little more water from the Colorado River’s headwaters to increase the reliability of its system, but won’t develop any new transmountain diversions without West Slope agreement and will help repair damage from past diversions.

    Those are some of the key provisions in the Colorado Cooperative Agreement between Denver Water and 42 West Slope water providers and local governments from the Grand Valley to Grand County.

    The Colorado Cooperative Agreement covers a whole suite of issues related to Denver’s diversion of water from the Fraser and Blue River drainages, tributaries to the Colorado River. In October, with little fanfare, this historic agreement received its final signatures and was fully executed. It took five years of mediation and nearly two years of ironing out the details with state and federal agencies, against a backdrop of decades of litigation, to get to this point.

    According to material from the Colorado River District’s latest quarterly meeting, the agreement, “is the direct result of Denver Water’s desire to expand its Moffat Tunnel transmountain water supply from the Fraser River in Grand County and to enlarge Gross Reservoir in Boulder County.” This project is expected to divert, on average, approximately 18,000 acre feet/year of water beyond the average of 58,000 acre feet/year it already diverts, which amounts to about 60% of the natural flow in the Fraser River at Winter Park.

    Under the agreement, the West Slope parties agreed not to oppose the increased Moffat Collection System diversions, and Denver Water agreed not to expand its service area and not to develop new water projects on the West Slope without the agreement of the resident counties and the Colorado River District. The agreement also includes dozens of other provisions designed to limit water demands in Denver and address water quality and flow conditions in the Colorado River and its tributaries. Here’s a sampling:

    Denver will contribute both water releases and several million dollars for a “learning by doing” project to improve aquatic habitat in Grand County. The project will be managed by representatives from Denver Water, Grand County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited and other water users.

    Denver will not exercise its rights to reduce bypass flows from Dillon Reservoir and its collection system in Grand County during droughts unless it has banned residential lawn watering in its service area.

    Diversions and reservoirs operated by both Denver Water and West Slope parties will be operated as if the Shoshone hydroelectric power plant in Glenwood Canyon were calling for its (very senior) water right, even at times when the plant is down. This is important for recreational and environmental flows in the river, as well as for junior water users downstream from plant.

    Denver Water will pay $1.5 million for water supply, water quality or water infrastructure projects benefiting the Grand Valley, and $500,000 to offset additional costs for water treatment in Garfield County when the Shoshone call is relaxed due to drought conditions.

    A similar agreement is under development between West Slope entities and Northern Water, which currently diverts about 220,000 acre feet/year of water from the Upper Colorado River to the Front Range through the Colorado Big Thompson Project. Like the Colorado Cooperative Agreement, the Windy Gap Firming Project Intergovernmental Agreement trades West Slope non-opposition to increased transmountain diversions for mitigations to address the impacts of both past and future stream depletions.

    Both the Colorado Cooperative Agreement and the Windy Gap Firming Project Intergovernmental Agreement have been hailed as models of cooperation. Meanwhile, East Slope – West Slope tensions continue to mount over how the Colorado Water Plan, currently under development, should address the possibility of additional diversions of water from the West Slope to meet growing urban demands on the Front Range. These agreements demonstrate that such tensions can be overcome, but also that it could take more time than allowed by the 2015 deadline Gov. Hickenlooper has set for completion of the Colorado Water Plan.

    Full details on the Colorado Cooperative Agreement can be found on the River District’s website, under “features” at http://www.crwcd.org/. More information on the Colorado Water Plan can be found at http://coloradowaterplan.com/.

    More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


    ‘Don’t goddamn come here [#ColoradoRiver Basin] any more’ — Lurline Curran

    December 3, 2013
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    Here’s an article about the white paper approved last week by the Colorado Basin Roundtable, from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    “Don’t goddamn come here any more,” was the way Lurline Curran, county manager of Grand County, summed up the roundtable’s position just before the group voted to approve a white paper it has been working on for months.

    “We’re trying to tell you, Front Range: Don’t count on us,” Curran said. “Don’t be counting on us to make up all the shortages.”

    The actual paper crafted by the Colorado roundtable states its case in a more diplomatic fashion, but it is still blunt.

    “The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid,” the position paper states…

    “There is going to have to be a discussion and plan for developing a new West Slope water supply,” the South Platte roundtable stated in a June memo directed to Committee.

    Together, the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas roundtables are pushing that discussion. They’re asking the state to preserve the option to build “several” 100,000 to 250,000 acre-foot projects on the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the lower Yampa River, and/or the Gunnison River at Blue Mesa Reservoir…

    On Nov. 25, the members of the Colorado River roundtable clearly wanted to inform the Committee that they don’t support the idea of new Western Slope projects.

    Jim Pokrandt, a communications executive at the Colorado River District who chairs the Colorado roundtable, said the group’s paper, directed to the Committee, was “an answer to position statements put out by other basin roundtables.”

    The Committee’s eventual analysis is expected to shape a draft statewide Colorado Water Plan, which is supposed to be on the governor’s desk via the Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 12 months.

    And while there has been a decades-long discussion in Colorado about the merits of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, the language in the position papers, and the roundtable meetings, is getting sharper as the state water plan now takes shape.

    “It’s not ‘don’t take one more drop,’ but it is as close as we can get,” said Ken Neubecker, the environmental representative on the Colorado roundtable, about the group’s current position.

    The paper itself advises, “the scenic nature and recreational uses of our rivers are as important to the West Slope as suburban development and service industry businesses are to the Front Range. They are not and should not be seen as second-class water rights, which Colorado can preserve the option of removing at the behest of Front Range indulgences.”

    That’s certainly in contrast to the vision of the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas basin roundtables, which in a draft joint statement in July said that the way to meet the “east slope municipal supply gap” is to develop “state water projects using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”[...]

    The white paper from the Colorado roundtable states that “new supply” is a euphemism for “a new transmountain diversion from the Colorado River system.”

    “This option must be the last option,” the paper notes.

    Instead of new expensive Western Slope water projects, the paper calls for more water conservation and “intelligent land use” on the Front Range.

    It goes on to note that Front Range interests are actively pursuing the expansion of existing transmountain diversions — many of which are likely to be blessed by the Committee because they are already in the works.

    It says the Western Slope has its own water gap, as the growing demands of agriculture, energy development, population growth and river ecosystems are coming together in the face of climate change.

    It calls for reform to the state’s water laws, so it is easier to leave water in Western Slope rivers for environmental reasons, and it rejects the Front Range’s call to streamline the review process for new water projects.

    “Streamlining as a means of forcing West Slope acquiescence to any new supply project ‘for the good of the state’ is unacceptable,” the paper states.

    Finally, the document advises the state not to endorse or get behind a Western Slope water project unless it “has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts from which water would be diverted.”

    More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    ‘Keeping the last wild river in the [#ColoradoRiver] Basin intact is important to a healthy environment’ — Susan Bruce

    December 2, 2013
    Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Here’s a post arguing to keep the Yampa River riparian system as a baseline for a healthy river from Susan Bruce writing for the Earth Island Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

    Governor John Hickenlooper’s directive to the Colorado Water Conservation Board earlier this year to create a Colorado Water Plan by 2015 has put the Yampa, which has the second largest watershed in the state, under the spotlight.

    Efforts to dam the Yampa go back to the proposed construction of Echo Park Dam, which Congress vetoed in 1952, bowing to a groundswell of public outcry led by David Brower, then with the Sierra Club. But in a compromise he later regretted, Brower supported the construction of two other dams: Glen Canyon on the Colorado River and Flaming Gorge on the Green River. The Green and Yampa rivers used to have similar flows and ecosystems. The construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam in 1962 modified the Green’s hydrograph, reducing sediment flow by half and tapering its seasonal fluctuations to a slower, more consistent flow, opening the way for invasive species like the tamarisk tree to crowd out native ones.

    More recently, in 2006, there was a proposal to build a reservoir near Maybell, CO, and pump water from the Yampa to a reservoir about 230 miles away for municipal and agricultural use on the Front Range. But the plan was scrapped due to environmental and cost concerns; the reservoir would have cost between $3 billion and $5 billion.

    The oil and gas industry is also eyeing the Yampa. Shell Oil had plans to pump about 8 percent of the Yampa’s high-water flow to fill a 1,000-acre reservoir, but it shelved the proposal in 2010, citing a slowdown of its oil-shale development program. Still, oil production in Colorado is at its highest level since 1957 and gas production at an all-time high. While industrial and municipal water needs are projected to increase with population growth, the largest water user, agriculture, will continue to divert the lion’s share of Colorado’s water, around 80 percent. All of which mean the pressure to suck up Yampa’s water is only going to grow.

    The most unique characteristic of the Yampa is its wild and unimpeded flow, in particular the extensive spring flooding that washes away sediment, giving the river its brownish hue. This “river dance” helps establish new streamside forests, wetlands, and sandy beaches, as well as shallows that support species like the endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. By late fall, the water barely covers the riverbed in some stretches…

    The rafting industry, which contributes more than $150 million to Colorado’s economy, has a strong voice when it comes to the Yampa’s future. Although damming the Yampa would provide a more consistent flow over a longer season, George Wendt – founder of OARS, the largest rafting company in the world – speaks for most outfitters when he says he would rather see the Yampa retain its natural state.

    Conservationists also argue that the Yampa’s full flow helps meet Colorado’s legal obligation to provide water to the seven states within the Colorado Basin and Mexico. Measures being considered to protect the Yampa include an instream flow appropriation by the Colorado Water Conservation Board that would reserve Yampa’s water for the natural function of rivers, and a Wild and Scenic River designation by Congress.

    Many proponents of keeping the Yampa wild point to its value as a baseline – an ecosystem naturally in balance. “If things go awry on dammed rivers, which they do, we have a control river, so to speak,” says Kent Vertrees of The Friends of the Yampa. “Keeping the last wild river in the Colorado Basin intact is important to a healthy environment and so future generations can experience in situ millions of years of history little changed by man.”

    More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


    US Representative Scott Tipton Testifies on Hermosa Creek Legislation in Senate

    November 29, 2013
    Hermosa Park

    Hermosa Park

    Here’s the release from Representative Tipton’s office:

    Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), today, testified in support of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act of 2013 in the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee. Tipton and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) have introduced companion bills in the House (H.R. 1839) and Senate (S.841) to protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed–an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango–as well as protect multiple use of the land.

    In his testimony, Tipton spoke on the community effort behind the legislation that is endorsed by a broad coalition of stakeholders including: the City of Durango, the La Plata County Commission, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the San Juan County Commission, Region 9, the Colorado Snowmobilers Association, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., in addition to numerous business and sportsmen groups, among others.

    More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.


    NOAA: The Endangered Species Act turns 40

    November 26, 2013
    Colorado Pike Minnow

    Colorado Pike Minnow

    From NOAA:

    This year we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). President Nixon signed the ESA into law on December 28, 1973. Congress understood that, without protection from human actions, many of our nation’s living resources would become extinct.

    Endangered species—in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

    Threatened species—likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.

    There are approximately 2,100 total species listed under the ESA. Of these species, approximately 1,480 are found in part or entirely in the U.S. and its waters; the remainder are foreign species.

    Species diversity and environment health are part of the natural legacy we leave for future generations. Each plant, animal, and their physical environment are part of a much more complex web of life, where the removal of a single species could cause a series of negative events affecting many others. Endangered species serve as a sentinel, indicating larger ecological problems that could alter ecosystem functions. The ESA is both a mechanism to help guide our conservation efforts and a reminder that future generations deserve the opportunity to enjoy the same great benefits from the natural world.

    We Will Continue the Work We Started

    Today the ocean is a very different place than it was 40 years ago. Thanks to the ESA, we now understand many of the threats faced by marine and anadromous species and are bringing them under control. The populations of many listed species are increasing, aided by our recovery efforts and time. Still, the populations of many species continue to decline and many more species are being listed. NOAA Fisheries scientists are developing the next generation of ocean observing systems, which will give us Increased awareness of what’s going on in the ocean, adapt our management, and respond to challenges of a changing climate. We will continue developing new technologies and management approaches, and our work with national and international partners, to ensure the ESA remains effective in an interdependent, rapidly-changing world.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    Secretary Jewell Applauds President’s Intent to Nominate Neil Kornze as Director of the Bureau of Land Management

    November 10, 2013
    Photovoltaic Solar Array

    Photovoltaic Solar Array

    Here’s the release from the Department of Interior:

    Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today praised President Obama’s intent to nominate Neil G. Kornze as Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Kornze would head a bureau that manages more than 245 million acres of public land under a multiple-use and sustained yield mission.

    “Neil has helped implement forward-looking reforms at the BLM to promote energy development in areas of minimal conflict, drive landscape-level planning efforts, and dramatically expand the agency’s use of technology to speed up the process for energy permitting,” said Jewell. “For more than a decade, Neil has been a key player in many of the nation’s major natural resource policy issues and has a reputation for being creative and results-oriented. His record at the BLM is marked by an inclusive approach and an openness to new ideas as the agency supports efforts to foster economic opportunities through safe and responsible energy development and increased access to the nation’s system of conservation lands.”

    Kornze has led the BLM since March 1, 2013, as Principal Deputy Director, overseeing its conservation, outdoor recreation and energy development programs. Prior to this role, Kornze served as the BLM’s Acting Deputy Director for Policy and Programs since October 2011. He joined the agency in January 2011 as a Senior Advisor to the Director and has worked on a range of issues, including renewable and conventional energy development, transmission siting and conservation policy. He also has been active in tribal consultation, especially regarding oil, gas and renewable energy development in Indian Country.

    Kornze played a key role in developing the Western Solar Plan, which established 17 low-conflict zones for commercial solar energy development and also identified lands appropriate for conservation, and the agency’s approval of 47 solar, wind and geothermal utility-scale projects on public lands, as a leader of the Department’s Renewable Energy Strike Team. When built, these projects add up to more than 13,300 megawatts – enough electricity to power 4.6 million homes and support 19,000 construction and operations jobs. He also has been a leader in reforming BLM’s oil and gas program, including the upcoming launch of a nation-wide online permitting system that could significantly reduce drilling permit processing times, and in the bureau’s efforts to enhance and increase visitors to the diverse system of national conservation lands.

    Before joining the BLM, Kornze was a Senior Policy Advisor to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, working on renewable energy, mining, water, outdoor recreation, rural development and wildlife conservation issues. He worked closely on developing and helping pass critical national legislation, including the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009 and the reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes programs. Raised in Elko, NV, by a family with a long history in mining, Kornze has a master’s degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate with a degree in Politics from Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA.

    The BLM has an annual budget of $1.1 billion and 10,250 employees who carry out a multiple-use and sustained yield mission to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the public lands – mostly in 12 western states – for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. The BLM hosts more than 59 million visits annually and administers the National System of Public Lands, which encompasses about 13 percent of the total land surface of the United States and more than 40 percent of all land managed by the federal government. BLM also manages 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate across the nation.

    From the Denver Business Journal (Mark Harden):

    Environmental groups praised the choice.

    “Neil Kornze will bring his western upbringing and values, combined with conservation knowledge, experience, and judgment to the director’s office at BLM,” said Trevor Kincaid of the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities. “Mr. Kornze’s record of finding compromise between divergent positions makes him an ideal candidate for the challenges facing BLM.”

    Kornze faces confirmation by the U.S. Senate. U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told the Salt Lake Tribune that while “the fact that Mr. Kornze is from the West is a good thing,” he plans to bring up such issues as sage grouse management and hydraulic fracturing as Kornze’s nomination is considered.
    In Colorado, some 1.7 million acres of BLM land are habitat for the greater sage grouse, whose dwindling numbers have led state and federal officials to weigh restrictions on energy development and grazing to protect the bird.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    A former adviser to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., will head the nation’s largest land-management agency, if Neil Kornze is approved by the Senate. President Barack Obama nominated Kornze to head the Bureau of Land Management on Thursday. The agency last had a permanent chief in May 2012.

    Kornze’s nomination won quick support from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who cited in a statement his office’s good working relationship with Kornze.

    “Being from the West and having demonstrated experience in the Congress and at the bureau make him a qualified candidate for the job,” Bennet said. “We’re looking forward to hearing more about how his priorities for the BLM will help our state balance the need for responsible energy development with recreation and the protection of our public lands and wildlife habitat.”

    Kornze grew up in Elko, Nev., and has headed the Bureau of Land Management since March 1. He joined the agency in 2011 as a senior adviser to Director Robert Abbey, working on renewable and conventional energy development and conservation policy. He worked previously with Reid.

    U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., is reviewing Kornze’s nomination, Udall’s office said.

    Kornze’s position on state water rights is an important issue, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said in a statement.

    Tipton has criticized the BLM and U.S. Forest Service for demanding state water rights in exchange for permits to graze or operate on federal lands.

    “It’s critically important that the director of the BLM understands the importance of multiple-use of public lands, and strives to achieve a balance of conservation and responsible use of the abundant natural resources on those lands,” Tipton said in a statement.

    Western Colorado is dependent on the bureau’s energy policies, David Ludlam of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association said.

    “So the responsibility falls to our community to reach out to Mr. Kornze early, often and constructively to open up access to the natural gas reserves so fundamental to our economy and quality of life,” Ludlam said.

    The BLM’s Grand Junction Field Office administers about 1 million acres in Mesa and surrounding counties, including U.S Forest Service lands it manages for the mineral deposits beneath them.

    The BLM administers more than 245 million acres of public lands nationwide.


    Glen Canyon Dam: High Flow Experiment – November 11-16, 2013 #ColoradoRiver

    November 5, 2013

    Here’s the release from Reclamation (Katrina Grantz):

    On November 11-16, 2013, the Department of Interior will conduct a high flow experimental (HFE) release from Glen Canyon Dam in accordance with the High-Flow Protocol. Under this Protocol, high flow releases are linked to sediment input and other resource conditions below Glen Canyon Dam. This HFE will be the second conducted under the HFE Protocol.

    Beginning on the morning of November 11th, releases from Glen Canyon Dam will begin ramping up to full power plant capacity (approximately 22,200 cfs). At midday on November 11th, bypass tubes at Glen Canyon Dam will be opened and releases will continue to increase up to full power plant and bypass capacity (approximately 37,200 cfs) by the evening of November 11th. Releases will be maintained at peak release for 4 days (96 hours) and then begin ramping back down. Releases will return to normal operations in the afternoon of November 16th. The entire experiment, including ramping is expected to last 5 and a half days, with 4 day (96 hours) at peak release. November releases from Glen Canyon Dam prior to and after the HFE are expected to fluctuate between 5,000cfs and 8,000cfs. The elevation of Lake Powell is expected to decrease approximately 2 ½ feet during the 5 and a half day experiment. The annual release volume from Lake Powell remains 7.48 maf and will not change as a result of the HFE. For additional information about High Flow Experiments at Glen Canyon Dam, please check back for links to the soon-to-be-updated High Flow Experiment webpages.

    Related Information and graphics:
    * Glen Canyon Dam November 2013 HFE Release Hydrograph
    * 2013 HFE Downstream Flow Arrival Time Map
    * Lake Powell 2013 HFE Projected Elevation Graphs
    * Lake Mead Projected Elevation Graphs

    Current Status
    The unregulated inflow volume to Lake Powell in September was 857 thousand acre-feet (kaf) (210% of average). The release volume from Glen Canyon Dam in September was 600 kaf. The end of September elevation and storage of Lake Powell were 3591.3 feet (108.7 feet from full pool) and 10.93 million acre-feet (maf) (45% of full capacity), respectively. Due to above average runoff from monsoonal activity in September, Lake Powell elevation increased by about 2 feet over an 11-day period in September. The reservoir elevation is now declining and will continue to decline through the fall and winter until spring runoff in 2014.

    To view the most current reservoir elevation, content, inflow and release, click on: Lake Powell Data.
    To view the most current reservoir elevation projections, click on: Lake Powell Elevation Projections.

    The water year 2013 unregulated inflow volume was 5.12 maf (47% of average), placing 2013 as the fourth driest on record since the closure of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963. Water years 2002, 1977, and 2012 were drier, receiving 2.64 maf, 3.53 maf, and 4.91 maf, respectively. In terms of reservoir elevation and storage, Lake Powell reached its peak for water year 2013 on June 18th at 3,601.2 ft (98.8 feet from full pool) which is 35.7 feet lower than last year’s peak elevation of 3636.9 ft. The end of water year 2013 elevation and storage of Lake Powell were 3591.3 feet (108.7 feet from full pool) and 10.93maf (45% of capacity), respectively. This is 3.0 maf less than 2012 end of water year storage which was 13.93 maf (57% of capacity).

    Releases for Water Year 2013 totaled 8.232 maf. Pursuant to the Interim Guidelines, Lake Powell operated under the Upper Elevation Balancing Tier in 2013. Throughout water year 2013, Reclamation adjusted operations of Glen Canyon Dam to release the appropriate annual volume during 2013 to achieve Upper Elevation Balancing Tier objectives as practicably as possible by September 30, 2012.

    Current Operations
    The operating tier for water year 2014 is the Mid-Elevation Release Tier with an annual release volume of 7.48 maf, as established in August 2013 and pursuant to the Interim Guidelines , Section 6.C.1. Reclamation will schedule operations at Glen Canyon Dam to achieve as practicably as possible a 7.48 maf annual release volume by September 30, 2014.
    Releases from Glen Canyon Dam in October are currently averaging approximately 8,000 cfs with daily fluctuations between approximately 5,000 cfs at nighttime and approximately 10,000 cfs during the daytime and consistent with the Glen Canyon Operating Criteria (Federal Register, Volume 62, No. 41, March 3, 1997). The scheduled release volume for October 2013 is 480 kaf.

    The anticipated release volume for November is 500 kaf with fluctuations for power generation throughout the day consistent with the Glen Canyon Operating Criteria (Federal Register, Volume 62, No. 41, March 3, 1997). However, the release volume may be adjusted in the event of a High Flow Experiment. Under the High-Flow Protocol, high flow releases are linked to sediment input and other resource conditions below Glen Canyon Dam. Preliminary analysis appears favorable for a high flow experimental release to occur during the period of November 11 – 19, 2013. During the High Flow Experiment, total releases from Glen Canyon Dam at full bypass may reach approximately 37,200 cfs. The total experiment, including ramping, could last up to about five and a half days. In the event of a high flow experiment, releases from Glen Canyon Dam prior to and after the high flow experiment are anticipated to fluctuate between 5,000cfs and 8,000cfs.

    In December, the release volume will likely be about 600 kaf, with fluctuations throughout the day for hydropower generation.

    In addition to daily scheduled fluctuations for power generation, the instantaneous releases from Glen Canyon Dam may also fluctuate to provide 40 MW of system regulation. These instantaneous release adjustments stabilize the electrical generation and transmission system and translate to a range of about 1,200 cfs above or below the hourly scheduled release rate. Under system normal conditions, fluctuations for regulation are typically short lived and generally balance out over the hour with minimal or no noticeable impacts on downstream river flow conditions.

    Releases from Glen Canyon Dam can also fluctuate beyond scheduled fluctuations for power generation when called upon as a partner that shares reserve requirements within the electrical generator community (i.e. balancing area). Reserves provide system reliability in the event of an unscheduled outage. Glen Canyon Dam typically maintains 43 MW of reserves (approximately 1,200 cfs). Reserve calls can be maintained for a maximum of 2 hours after which time the generation rate should be returned to the original schedule. If reserves from Glen Canyon Dam are called upon, releases from the dam can exceed scheduled levels and can have a noticeable impact on the river downstream from Glen Canyon Dam. Calls for reserves are fairly infrequent and typically are for much less than 43 MW.

    Inflow Forecasts and Model Projections
    The hydrologic forecast for water year 2014 for Lake Powell, issued by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, projects that the most probable (median) unregulated inflow volume will be 9.65 maf (89% of average based on the period 1981-2010). The water year 2013 forecast increased by 1.24 maf since last month, primarily due to much higher than expected monsoonal precipitation and runoff in September. At this early point in the season, there is significant uncertainty regarding next year’s water supply. The forecast ranges from a minimum probable of 6.5 maf (60% of average) to a maximum probable of 17.5 maf (162% of average). There is a 10% chance that inflows could be higher than the maximum probable and a 10% chance they could be lower than the minimum probable.

    Based on the current forecast, the October 24-Month study projects Lake Powell elevation will peak near approximately 3,604 ft next summer and end the water year near 3,598 feet with approximately 11.6 maf in storage (48% capacity). Note that projections of elevation and storage have significant uncertainty at this point in the season, primarily due to uncertainty regarding next season’s snowpack and resulting inflow to Lake Powell. Under the minimum probable inflow scenario, the projected summer peak is 3,586 ft and end of water year storage is 9.3 maf (38% capacity). Under the maximum probable inflow scenario the projected summer peak is 3,661 ft and end of water year storage is 18.4 maf (76% capacity). There is a 10% chance that inflows will be higher, resulting in higher elevation and storage, and 10% chance that inflows will be lower, resulting in lower elevation and storage. The annual release volume from Lake Powell during water year 2014 is projected to be 7.48 maf under all inflow scenarios.

    Consistent with Section 6.C.1 of the Interim Guidelines, the Lake Powell operational tier for water year 2014 is the Mid-Elevation Release Tier with an annual release volume of 7.48 maf. This was determined in the August 2013 24-Month study tier determination run which projected that, with an 8.23 maf annual release pattern in water year 2014, the January 1, 2014, Lake Powell elevation would be below 3,575.0 feet and the Lake Mead elevation would be above 1,025.0 feet. This determination will be documented in the 2014 AOP, which is currently in the final stages of development.

    Upper Colorado River Basin Hydrology
    The Upper Colorado River Basin regularly experiences significant year to year hydrologic variability. During the 14-year period 2000 to 2013, however, the unregulated inflow to Lake Powell, which is a good measure of hydrologic conditions in the Colorado River Basin, was above average in only 3 out of the past 14 years. The period 2000-2014 is the lowest 14-year period since the closure of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, with an average unregulated inflow of 8.25 maf, or 76% of the 30-year average (1981-2010). (For comparison, the 1981-2010 average is 10.83maf.) The unregulated inflow during the 2000-2013 period has ranged from a low of 2.64 maf (24% of average) in water year 2002 to a high of 15.97 maf (147% of average) in water year 2011. One wet year can significantly increase total system reservoir storage, just as persistent dry years can draw down the system storage.

    At the beginning of water year 2014, total system storage in the Colorado River Basin was 29.9 maf (50% of 59.6 maf total system capacity). This is about 4 maf less than the total storage at the beginning of water year 2013 which began at 34.0 maf (57% of capacity). Since the beginning of water year 2000, total Colorado Basin storage has experienced year to year increases and decreases in response to wet and dry hydrology, ranging from a high of 94% of capacity at the beginning of 2000 to a low of 50% of capacity at the beginning of water year 2014. Based on current forecasts, the current projected end of water year 2014 total Colorado Basin reservoir storage is approximately 29.6 maf (50% of capacity).

    Updated: October 29, 2013
    Katrina Grantz

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Drought news: 3 years of drought, DWR enforcement regarding seep ditches leads to loss of bird habitat #COdrought

    October 23, 2013
    Straight Line Diagram Lower Arkansas River Valley via Headwaters Magazine

    Straight Line Diagram Lower Arkansas River Valley via Headwaters Magazine

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A McClave farmer who has watched a reservoir dry up during the drought of the last three years is nearing the end of a court battle with the state and downstream water users to protect a wildlife refuge. Unless some other source of water is found, the two reservoirs that provide habitat for migrating birds, including some endangered species, could become just so many more acres of weeds and salt cedar, said Lance Verhoeff.

    “There is a real risk of the wildlife refuge disappearing,” Verhoeff said. “I think there’s a real opportunity if conservation groups could come together to find water to put in the reservoirs.”

    So far, there only have been efforts to take water from the small reservoirs, located just downstream of John Martin Reservoir.

    In 2011, the Division of Water Resources began enforcing water rights on seep ditches throughout the Arkansas River basin — the type that used to provide water to the Bent County reservoirs.

    For Verhoeff, the decision has been perplexing. His family was encouraged by the state to build the reservoirs — one in 1946 and one in 1962 — and received funding from the federal Soil Conservation Service. Using the reservoirs, the Verhoeffs were able to turn meadows into fields with the full support of state and federal agencies. In the process, the reservoirs became prime habitat for migrating birds.

    In 2002, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service even funded a habitat improvement project. “The biggest problem has been the change in the management of water, through buy-and-dry by the cities and the lawsuit with Kansas,” Verhoeff said.

    In 2011, the state cracked down on seep ditches — water intercepted on its way back to the river from more senior diversions. Verhoeff filed a water court application in late 2011 seeking to gain storage rights, as well as shore up his claim to water on several ditches.

    Verhoeff maintained that water development in the area early on separated the reservoirs from the river. The state and downstream water users such as the Amity Canal, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association argued that a ditch was needed to convey water to the river — and away from the reservoirs.

    Trial is set for November in water court, but Verhoeff is working with the other groups on a settlement. The likelihood is that the upper reservoir will be able to store water when it is available, while the lower one, already full of tamarisk and weeds, will remain dry unless other sources of water are found.

    “The reservoirs are not under restriction for any dam safety purposes,” said Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer. “They could be used for storage if a way was found to put water into the reservoirs through augmentation and exchange.”

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.


    Feds eye changes to Colorado River endangered fish conservation program

    October 8, 2013

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    Recovery team eyes White River Basin

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    The Colorado pikeminnow is one of four endangered species that could benefit from a proposed new plan to boost flows during critical seasons. Photo courtesy USFWS.

    By Summit Voice

    *More Summit Voice stories on the Colorado River native fish conservation program are online here.

    FRISCO — State and federal biologists are considering some changes to the Colorado River Native Fish Recovery Program in the White River Basin after a discussion with stakeholders.

    The endangered fish — colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker, bonytail — are already protected in the White River Basin, according to The Nature Conservancy. The changes would be a firming up of management expectations.

    A similar approach has been used in other basins to ensure that current and future water needs are met for people and endangered fish.  The White River management plan aims to:

    • identify existing and some…

    View original 365 more words


    Yellow-billed cuckoo may get endangered species status

    October 5, 2013

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    Native bird has nearly been extirpated from the West

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    Yellow-billed cuckoos have nearly been extirpated from the western U.S. Photo courtesy Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory .

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    Yellow-billed cuckoos are only found in a few isolated locations in Colorado.

    By Summit Voice

    FRISCO — The yellow-billed cuckoo, once common along streams throughout the West, may finally get some protection under the Endangered Species Act.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed Endangered Species Act protection  for the brids, following a 2011 agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity to speed protection decisions for 757 imperiled species nationwide.

    The flashy bird, with a long tail and white markings on it wings, has long been listed as a species of concern by Colorado wildlife biologists, as their numbers have dropped drastically since the early 20th century. Click here to read a Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory report on yellow-billed cuckoos in…

    View original 299 more words


    Lawsuit filed over Southwestern Willow Flycatcher habitat destruction by the Tamarisk Leaf Beetle

    October 2, 2013
    Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

    Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

    From The Los Angeles Times (Louis Sahagun):

    A U.S. Department of Agriculture program designed to control invasive streamside trees by releasing exotic leaf-eating beetles has gone awry and is destroying the nesting areas of a federally endangered songbird, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by two conservation groups.

    The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Maricopa Audubon Society accuses the department and its Animal and Plant Inspection Service, or APHIS, of failing to safeguard the southwestern willow flycatcher from the effects of the release of the beetles imported from central Asia to eradicate tamarisk trees.

    Flycatchers often nest where tamarisks have crowded out native cottonwood and willow trees. About 25% of the birds’ territories are in areas dominated by the tamarisk, a water-hungry tree that grows in impenetrable thickets.

    The department began releasing the beetles in 14 states in 2005 with assurances that the insects would not be introduced within 200 miles of flycatcher habitat. It also said the beetle could not survive in regions south of 37 degrees north latitude, where shorter days suppress its reproduction.

    In an environmental assessment published two years earlier, APHIS officials said the strain of beetle “exhibits a particular life history that will enable its safe release in the 14 proposed states.”

    According to the lawsuit, however, the department in 2006 introduced beetles into flycatcher-nesting areas along the Virgin River in southern Utah. Now, they are spreading into nesting areas in southern Utah, Nevada and northern and western Arizona.

    “Their agreements were broken,” Robin Silver, a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “The beetle is going wild below 37 degrees north latitude.”

    “If we don’t deal with this problem immediately, it will wipe out the middle part of the flycatcher’s range,” Silver said. “Eventually, there may not be enough habitat left to sustain the species.”

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    Correction! The Rio Grande: it’s not ‘for the birds’

    September 26, 2013

    Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

    In January 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) designated nearly 1,300 miles of streams throughout the southwest  as critical habitat for this sweet looking bird, the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. The area included land along the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers in Colorado, as well as an area surrounding the upper part of Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico.

    The designation had some excited and others concerned that it could impact water availability within the Rio Grande Basin.  CFWE got the information wrong in our Rio Grande Compact story published in the latest issue of Headwaters magazine, we wrote “The USFWS could use the designation to require the delivery of more water downstream, beyond what is required under the compact.” Which is just not true… our most sincere apologies! You can read a correction in the article on our website– but if you’re interested in the designation, read more…

    View original 656 more words


    High Country News: Why aren’t experimental floods helping native fish below Glen Canyon Dam? #ColoradoRiver

    September 1, 2013
    A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo USBR

    A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo/USBR

    Here’s a report from Sarah Keller writing for The Goat. Click through and read the whole article and to check out the graphics. Here’s an excerpt:

    Now, managers are trying to balance the need for beach-restoring floods, which increase non-native trout numbers upstream, with the need to maintain chub habitat in the Grand Canyon. That left some researchers asking the question: If big, artificial floods didn’t help humpback chub as expected, what are the root causes of their low numbers, and what will help them thrive?

    Despite being limited by food availability, the warm water-loving chub has gradually been making a comeback. They’ve likely benefited from recent increases in water temperatures as drought has lowered Lake Powell, and from trout control measures. Managers have removed rainbows from the Grand Canyon main channel in the past. The Fish and Wildlife Service may do that again, if trout numbers increase, and they march downstream. The National Park Service is already controlling rainbow trout, along with brown trout, in the side streams Shinamu Creek and Bright Angel Creek.

    But a majority of the Grand Canyon’s roughly 10,000 chub live in or around the Little Colorado River, and biologists worry that if that single population becomes diseased, or something toxic spills into the river, it could doom the entire species. So National Park Service biologists have also been reintroducing chub to additional side streams, and this May, they discovered chub from an introduced population spawning for the first time in Havasu Creek, in the Grand Canyon — an encouraging sign.

    More on the Colorado River from Allen Best writing for The Mountain Town News. Here’s an excerpt:

    Fully half of the Colorado River’s water comesfrom Colorado, with lesser amounts from other states before the river is stopped at Glen Canyon Dam to create the reservoir most people call Lake Powell.

    Now comes the news that because of the drought that has continued more years than not since 1999, less water will be released from Powell downstream to Las Vegas, Arizona and California. Also as a result, less electricity can be produced at Hoover Dam.

    This was not surprising news. Water experts for some years have spoke with increasing alarm about the razor-thin margin between supplies and demands in the Colorado River Basin.

    As is, water hasn’t reached the Pacific Ocean with regularity since the 1960s – and not at all since the late 1990s.

    Bull’s eye for this story is Las Vegas. A century ago, it wasn’t much more than a railroad depot in a place that annually gets only 4 inches of precipitation. Mafia dons and gambling and giant hotels all came later. When the Colorado River Compact was drawn up in 1922, only 700,000 acre-feet out of what the compact framers optimistically estimated were an annual 16 million acre-feet of flows were allocated to Nevada. California could see its future needs, and Colorado presciently saw the need for a compact before California slurped up all the water. But nobody foresaw The Strip.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage from Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    Arizona, California and Nevada can’t demand more water from Colorado for nearly a decade, but a day of reckoning is growing nearer, water officials said. The possibility of a call on the river, however, is underscored by the aridity of 2013. “It looks like 2013 will be the third-driest year for Lake Powell,” Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said Tuesday in a meeting with The Daily Sentinel editorial board. “Low reservoir levels have everyone’s attention.”

    Runoff for the water year, which ends Sept. 30, was 35 percent to 50 percent of normal through July, setting the stage for dire predictions of runoff in the coming years.

    The Southern Nevada Water Authority this month called for federal disaster relief to address the water scarcity in the Colorado River system and the Bureau of Reclamation announced this week that it was looking to store more water in Lake Powell in 2014 than it might otherwise.

    The upper-basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are required under a 1922 agreement to deliver 7.5 million acre feet of water to the lower basin each year, as well as water for Mexico. That hasn’t been a problem because the requirement is based on a 10-year rolling average.

    The current average includes the high-water year of 2012, Kuhn noted, but that year eventually will be factored out and its influence could be leveled out by a succession of low-runoff years. “As a practical matter, we’re not going to run into a compact problem until 2021, 2022, 2023,” Kuhn said.

    The compact states also have a “peace agreement” that expires in 2025 and the parties appear committed to observing it, Kuhn said.

    Still, the low levels of water in the Colorado River reservoirs are pumping new importance into talks about how to manage the river, Kuhn said.

    Another agreement among the River District, Western Slope water users and Denver Water has yet to be signed by all parties, but already is paying off for the Western Slope, Kuhn said. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement provides for the river levels to be maintained at the levels that would be required if the Shoshone generating station in Glenwood Canyon were operating even at times that the plant is down or operating at less than capacity. The agreement is being honored, Kuhn said, as are provisions governing the operations of Green Mountain Reservoir.

    “Everyone is sticking to the agreement,” said Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who represents the county on the River District board.

    More coverage from Anne MacKinnon writing for WyoFile.com. Here’s an excerpt:

    Congress, sadly “dysfunctional” in this era, has to recognize that the nation must put money into scientific research and plans that help people, infrastructure, and natural resources to adapt and change to meet the uncertainties of climate change, said Pat Mulroy, outspoken general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

    She said people involved in the Colorado River have managed in the past dozen years to negotiate deals and create relationships that can be built upon now. Negotiators will be able, she said, to come up with ways in which there will be no water battles, and no “winners and losers” on the river, despite dwindling supplies.

    Everyone will stand to lose a little, but no one, perhaps not even the river itself, need face the disaster of no water for vital needs. Congress, however, will have to act, backing whatever joint proposals develop to prevent such a disaster.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Raton: Partnership nourishes Rio Grande cutthroat habitat

    August 11, 2013

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    Here’s the release from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (Rachel Shockley):

    Thanks to a collaboration between the Department of Game and Fish, Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, Vermejo Park Ranch and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout will have protected habitat long into the future.

    A Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) for Vermejo Park Ranch, recently approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will help conserve and restore the New Mexico State Fish and other native fish in the Costilla watershed.

    The Department works closely with private landowners, states and federal agencies to recover sensitive species and their habitat. By proactively agreeing to conservation activities within a project area, a CCAA can protect existing uses such as agriculture, recreation or commercial activities if a covered species becomes federally protected.

    “We have been working together for 10 years to make sure we can address the needs of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout and other native fish living in the watershed, while ensuring private landowners continue to be able to manage their own lands. This agreement does that,” said Department Fisheries Chief Mike Sloane.

    The Rio Grande cutthroat is easy to recognize with its red throat slashes, rosy belly and spotted sides. Anglers have long enjoyed the colorful fish and have contributed millions of dollars to conservation and habitat restoration for the species through the purchase of fishing licenses and fishing equipment. At Vermejo Park Ranch, non-native trout were removed and Rio Grande cutthroat were stocked. Non-native trout will continue to be removed from the waterways until the restoration is complete. Because of the CCAA, the Costilla basin is set to provide important habitat for New Mexico’s native trout for many years to come.

    “The CCAA is a no brainer for us,” said Carter Kruse, aquatic resource coordinator for Turner Enterprises. “If the Rio Grande cutthroat trout is listed under the Endangered Species Act, it provides us the protection and flexibility to design the activities on the ranch, and as private landowners, to manage the property to the best of our abilities for conservation and for economic sustainability. We hope we can be an example for other private landowners that you can still do your ranching activities and participate in conservation. We’ve done it, it works, here’s how.”

    Although not listed as endangered, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout is a candidate species for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Department is working hard to keep the fish off the endangered species list by increasing the subspecies’ range and the number of populations through habitat restoration and stocking. Currently, Rio Grande cutthroats are found in about 10 percent of the species’ historic habitat, which encompassed the Rio Grande, Pecos River and Canadian River basins in New Mexico and Colorado. The species faces many challenges, including non-native fish, fragmented populations, drought and poor habitat.

    From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

    Wildlife officials in New Mexico and Colorado have teamed up with the Vermejo Park Ranch near Raton to protect habitat for the Rio Grande cutthroat trout. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish says federal officials have approved a conservation agreement for the northern New Mexico ranch that is aimed at conserving and restoring the trout along with other native fish in the Costilla watershed. The agreement gives the ranch flexibility in managing its private lands while working to meet the needs of the fish if it’s ever listed under the Endangered Species Act.

    The trout are found in about 10 percent of their historic habitat, which encompassed the Rio Grande, Pecos River and Canadian River basins in New Mexico and Colorado. Threats facing the species include non-native fish, fragmented populations, drought and poor habitat.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.


    Arkansas River Basin: $50,000 USFWS grant for threatened greenback cutthroat protection

    July 12, 2013

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will help fund two projects in the Fountain Creek watershed designed to restore fish habitat. Federal grants of $50,000 each were awarded to the Bear Creek sediment mitigation project and the fish passage project at Clear Springs Ranch on Fountain Creek. The Bear Creek project, which totals $185,000, also is seeking a $100,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to improve a 4-mile stretch of creek west of Colorado Springs. Bear Creek is home to the only known native population of greenback cutthroat trout in Colorado. The fish were discovered in 2012 and the project seeks to protect the creek from heavy recreation use alongside the creek.

    The $640,000 project at Clear Springs Ranch is being led by Colorado Springs Utilities to help the Arkansas darter, a native plains fish, swim upstream to spawn.

    One other project in Colorado was given a $50,000 grant that will assist in a $512,000 project in Northwestern Colorado to improve habitat and create a fish passage for cutthroat trout on Milk Creek.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    The Rocky Mountain Field Institute is looking at options to protect Colorado’s last population of Greenback cutthroats

    June 20, 2013

    cutthroattrouthistoricranges

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Can the state’s last remaining native fish survive the human impacts on their stream?

    The Rocky Mountain Field Institute wants a $100,000 state grant to improve the habitat of Bear Creek, west of Colorado Springs. The creek is home to the only remaining population of greenback cutthroat trout in Colorado. The trout were discovered last year through genetic testing by the University of Colorado. Bear Creek also is a popular recreation site, and roads, hikers, cyclists and other outdoor activities. “It’s the only native greenback population in the state,” explained Doug Krieger, aquatic biologist for Parks and Wildlife, at last week’s Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting. “We want to protect this mother lode of fish.”

    The roundtable approved the grant, which now goes to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    The trout live in a 4-mile stretch of Bear Creek. They apparently were stocked there in the 1800s, because the species actually is native to the South Platte River basin. Native species of greenback cutthroat trout in the state’s three other river basins are believed to be extinct or genetically altered by contact with other species. The state last year moved 64 of the fish to fisheries to breed more stock, Krieger added.

    The grant money would stabilize a draw that is responsible for loading most of the sediment into Bear Creek, restore a portion of the stream and develop a plan to take steps to reduce sediment loading from High Drive, which runs adjacent to the creek.

    Several recreational groups are cooperating in the project.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    San Miguel River watershed: Instream flow right granted in May should keep the river whole from stem to stern

    June 10, 2013

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    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Handy):

    One of the last free-flowing rivers in Colorado, the San Miguel will continue to course through the western slope unchecked by mankind, thanks to a May 20 Colorado Water Court ruling granting it protected status. Granted “in-stream flow protection,” the San Miguel will continue to be a natural habitat for three fish species, as well as fuel the down-stream rafting economy, said John Fielder, a landscape photographer and champion of natural resources preservation. “Like the Yampa (River), the San Miguel is one of the last undammed major rivers in the state,” Fielder said.

    The in-stream water rights guarantee that no one can take water out of the river, said Rob Harris, a lawyer for Western Resources Advocates, a resources conservation non-profit. Instead, the San Miguel’s water will be preserved for three native fish: the Roundtail Chub, the Flannel Mouth Sucker, and the Bluehead Sucker, Harris said…

    To preserve the fish natural habitat, the Colorado Water Conservation Board applied for in-stream flow protection for the San Miguel in 2011, at the urging of Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management. The in-stream protection protects a 17-mile segment of the river, which runs west of Montrose near Naturita.

    More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.


    Denver Water’s bypass flows enhance the Fraser River fishery #ColoradoRiver #COdrought

    June 5, 2013

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    Here’s an opinion piece running in the Sky-Hi Daily News written by the Grand County Commissioners. They take on the execution of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. Here’s an excerpt:

    As your Commissioners, we believe it is important to let you know the status of the agreement and how the agreement is already benefitting the county.

    In the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Denver Water commits to providing environmental enhancements to address existing flow and temperature concerns throughout Grand County. It is important to note that the enhancements contained in the Cooperative Agreement are not a substitute for mitigation for the Gross Reservoir Enlargement Project (Moffat Project), as the agreement clearly states. Grand County continues to advocate in the federal permitting process for complete mitigation for all impacts caused by the Moffat Project.

    The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement has not yet been signed by all parties, awaiting federal agency sign-off on allied agreements. Final signatures and full execution is expected this summer. However, even though the Cooperative Agreement has not been fully executed and the Moffat Project is not yet permitted, let alone built, Denver Water voluntarily implemented fundamental and critical components of the agreement last year and again this spring providing more water for county streams than would have been present without the agreement.

    Denver Water contacted Grand County officials to determine how to maximize benefit to Grand County of bypassed water. In short, instead of the historical practice of significantly reducing the bypass flows at its diversion points during droughts, Denver Water is bypassing water for the benefit of the environment and Grand County water users. This benefit amounted to about 1,500 acre-feet of water that Denver Water gave back to the Fraser River when they legally could have diverted it to Denver in 2012. According to the municipal water and wastewater providers in the Fraser Valley, this additional water made a huge benefit last year to stream flow and stream temperatures, as well as operations of water and wastewater facilities.

    Again this year, Denver Water instituted drought restrictions in April, which meant they had the right to reduce the flows in the Fraser River. Despite grave concerns about their water supply — overall reservoir storage was below 2002 levels and early projections showed reservoirs may not fill this season — Denver Water contacted us to discuss the bypass flows and the best way to work with Grand County to maximize water available for the county in 2013.

    This example of cooperation and communication is what was envisioned when Grand County entered into the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement with Denver Water. The relationship forged through this agreement is bearing fruit for Grand County even though the agreement is not officially in place.

    More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


    USFWS: Spring Releases for Endangered Fish a ‘No Go’ This Year #ColoradoRiver

    May 26, 2013

    fishladderpricestubbsdamcoloradoriver.jpg

    Here’s the release from the Fish and Wildlife Service (Kara Lamb) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Michelle Garrison):

    A voluntary river flow program to provide enhanced spring peak flows for endangered fish will not take effect this year. Operators of Dillon, Green Mountain, Williams Fork, Wolford and Ruedi reservoirs cannot implement the Coordinated Reservoirs Operations program this spring because river flows in western Colorado will not approach levels where increased flows would benefit the endangered fishes. Extremely dry conditions throughout 2012 combined with below average conditions in 2013 have resulted in low reservoir storage and below average spring runoff. The current forecast for the water supply for the Colorado River at Cameo near Grand Junction, Colo., is 52 to 65 percent of average.

    The Coordinated Reservoir Operations Program was established in 1995 as part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. Its purpose is to enhance spring peak flows to a section of the Colorado River upstream of Grand Junction without causing flooding. In years when snowpack is above average, surplus inflows to the upstream reservoirs can be passed on downstream to benefit two species of endangered fish in the Colorado River: the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker.

    This spring, most of the basin reservoir operators expect to approach, but not achieve, their goals of filling the reservoirs. Streamflows are predicted to remain significantly below the Coordinated Reservoir Operations target threshold of 12,900 cubic-feet-per-second in the Colorado River near Grand Junction.

    From the Associated Press via The San Francisco Chronicle:

    Under a voluntary program, when mountain snowpack is above average, the operators of Dillon, Green Mountain, Williams Fork, Wolford and Ruedi reservoirs release water to enhance spring peak Colorado River flows for the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker. The Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday that this year, river flows won’t be high enough to trigger the releases.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    Low streamflows are endangering the survival of the Rio Grande River cutthroat trout #COdrought

    May 25, 2013

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    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    Some of southern Colorado’s Rio Grande cutthroat trout are likely living on the edge of the climate cliff and will have a hard time surviving as global temperatures rise.

    Flows are already very low in many streams where the rare fish live, so even a small change in flow could push some populations into the abyss. The long-term global warming forecast by most climate models could render many mainstem, connecting habitats unsuitable for the fish, which survive best in a narrow temperature range, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey scientists.

    Rio Grande cutthroat trout now live in only about 12 percent of its historical habitat, as non-native fish introductions, water diversions and other impacts degraded the species’ habitat in the past few decades. Most of the sampled streams with Rio Grande cutthroat trout have base flows of less than 1 cubic foot per second, making them vulnerable to drought.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    CMU: Grand Valley Float — Palisade to Corn Lake May 29 #ColoradoRiver

    May 23, 2013

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    From Colorado Mesa University:

    Float along the Colorado River between vineyards and orchards in a section of the 15-mile reach of critical habitat for 4 species of endangered fish.

    To Register, click here.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.


    USFWS designation of habitat for the flycatcher was the talk of the recent Rio Grande Compact meeting

    March 31, 2013

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    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently designated critical habitat for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher in portions of the San Luis Valley totaling 27 miles and nine miles along the uppermost portion of New Mexico’s Elephant Butte Reservoir, one of the main storage facilities for the Rio Grande Compact. Murphy said the Colorado and New Mexico designations were essential to the recovery of the species, which has been on the federal endangered species list since 1995. Commissioners expressed concern the designations would affect compact administration. Murphy indicated the designations should not affect water administration along the Rio Grande [ed. emphasis mine].

    In the engineer advisers’ report to the compact commission on Thursday, Colorado’s Engineer Adviser and Colorado Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten read into the record the advisers’ report, which included the concern the Elephant Butte Reservoir flycatcher designation could impact about one million acre feet of reservoir storage. “Information presented by the [Fish and Wildlife] Service and [Bureau of] Reclamation relating to the impacts of the designation upon reservoir operations was inconclusive,” Cotten read from the engineer advisers’ report. “The engineer advisers are concerned about impacts from the designation on certain elements of the Rio Grande Compact, and to water operations, including supplies at Elephant Butte Reservoir.”

    Colorado Commissioner and State Engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources Dick Wolfe questioned Murphy why areas in the San Luis Valley had been designated critical habitat for the flycatcher since members of the water community had worked for many years developing a habitat conservation plan (HCP) precluding the need for that designation. Wolfe said the Fish and Wildlife Service had been involved in the habitat conservation plan process and had approved it. “In approving that HCP the service recognized that HCP would provide continued protection to the flycatcher habitat,” Wolfe said. He added there are already more flycatcher pairs in the Valley than the habitat recovery plan calls for. He said 56 flycatcher territories were estimated in this area, and the FWS goal was 50, so he did not see the need for additional critical habitat designation.

    Murphy said the goal of designating critical habitat for endangered species like the Southwestern willow flycatcher is to ensure their survival and recovery. He said an area that might not contain the species might be designated because of its connectivity to other habitats along the river corridor. The flycatcher habitat is unique, he said, in that this the only bird that nests in shrubs and trees with branches that are vertically oriented like the willows and saltcedar (tamarisk.)

    Texas Commissioner Pat Gordon asked Murphy about the nine miles of critical habitat near Elephant Butte that was designated in January. Murphy said the Elephant Butte habitat “is not only significant to the Rio Grande Basin, it’s significant to the population as a whole. What we look at is an area that is essential to the survival of the species knowing that periodic inundation will occur and we feel that is probably beneficial to flycatcher habitat over the long run, but we could not ignore the fact that there are a significant number of territories there with high productivity levels.”

    Murphy said when he moved to New Mexico in 1999 Elephant Butte Reservoir was nearly full, and it stayed that way for quite awhile. When the water levels receded in the reservoir, habitat appeared for the flycatchers, which took advantage of it and experienced a rebounding in their population as a result…

    Water commissioners have reason to be concerned over endangered species’ effect on water administration, given the ongoing challenge to keep enough water in New Mexico’s rivers to sustain the Rio Grande Silvery minnows, another endangered species. “The Rio Grande Silvery minnows are at an all-time low,” Murphy reported to the Rio Grande Compact Commission. Last year 51 miles of the main channel of the Middle Rio Grande dried up, so the FWS undertook a salvage operation in which more than 4,200 silvery minnows were salvaged and relocated.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.


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