Some 200 of the unique cutthroat trout were removed from Hayden Creek
State wildlife officers on Wednesday rescued rare cutthroat trout from a creek in the Hayden Pass fire burn area, quelling concerns about their possible extinction because of the blaze.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife says many of the rare fish — with genetic links to the iconic, pure greenback cutthroat trout — were taken from the fire zone to an isolation chamber at the Roaring Judy Hatchery near Gunnison.
Officials were worried ash and sediment from the Hayden Pass fire would wash down into the lower prong of Hayden Creek, where the fish live, strangling their oxygen and food supplies. However, videos taken from the rescue mission show wildlife officers removing several of the trout from the stream.
The trout that live in the creek share a unique genetic anomaly with a cutthroat found in the Smithsonian Museum and said to have been taken from Twin Lakes near Leadville in 1889, CPW says.
Fire commanders say the trout mission on Wednesday resulted in the netting and removal of 200 fish. One of the firefight’s main objectives has been to protect the fish as much as possible.
…United States Geological Service biologist Theodore Kennedy and his colleagues point out, the danger to ecosystems could go beyond an immediate threat to fish populations. In particular, no one’s really looked at the consequences of hydropeaking, in which dam operators release more water through the dam during the day to produce more electricity when it’s most in demand. Like the underlying electricity demand, the hour-to-hour changes in river flow are enormous. In some places, river flows change by as much as a factor of 10 over the course of the day, leading to a cycle of drying and re-wetting along the shore of a river. That creates intertidal zones more akin to what you’d see at an ocean beach than a typical river.
The dry phases, Kennedy and his team point out, could be very bad for mayflies, caddisflies, and other insect species that birds and fish rely on for food—in particular, it could be very bad for their eggs. To test that idea, the researchers first collected mayfly and caddisfly eggs from Utah’s Green River, downstream of the Flaming Gorge Dam, and tested them under hydropeaking-like cycles of wet and dry. Very few survived.
To see how much impact hydropeaking had in the real world, however, the researchers turned to citizen scientists—specifically, river rafters on the Colorado River downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam. Each night, rafters collected insects at various points along the river. Combining that data with a model of hydropeaking’s effect on river flow at those points, the team was able to estimate the effects hydropeaking had on insects.
The results: While different species responded to hydropeaking differently, insects that lay their eggs right at the river’s edge, such as mayflies, had all but vanished from the Colorado River. Midges, which lay their eggs in somewhat broader areas, were most abundant at places where hydropeaking had the smallest effect on water levels. A follow-up study of 16 rivers in the Western U.S. confirmed that hydropeaking had a strong negative impact on insect biodiversity.
Whether or not you care about insects themselves—and many people don’t—the authors point out that healthy insect populations are essential for species that we do care about. “For instance, recent food-web and bioenergetics studies demonstrate that in the popular Lees Ferry sport fishery downstream of the Glen Canyon Dam, the maximum size and growth of rainbow trout are limited by the abundance and overall small size of their invertebrate prey,” Kennedy and his team write.
The lack of insect biodiversity also makes for unstable fish populations—an issue that fisheries managers need to take into account.
The tournament is hosted by CPW, and it is offering over $6,000 in prizes, but the effort is part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery program.
To prevent further federal involvement, the recovery program was formed in 1988 to provide endangered species act compliance and keep water development projects closer to the local level.
Three states — Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — along with a multitude of federal agencies and private organizations formed the recovery program to help improve fish populations of the endangered humpback chub, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and ponytail.
The program’s actions are dictated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but it still provides an important buffer between state and federal government.
If the program fails and is dissolved, an individual who draws water from the Yampa River would have to justify their use and provide evidence that their use does not impact endangered fishes — a task the recovery program currently completes.
Sherman Hebein, CPW’s senior aquatic biologist for the northwest region, said his organization is hosting the tournament at Elkhead and offering serious prizes because it is important to engage the public in the effort to control non-natives.
Elkhead Reservoir is home to nonnative northern pike and smallmouth bass, making it a popular fishery for anglers from across Colorado.
But the same nonnatives that attract anglers to the reservoir eat the four fish the recovery program is trying to save.
“The objective of this tournament is to suppress these fish, smallmouth bass and northern pike, to reduce the impact of those fish on the Yampa River,” Hebein said.
Hebein said protecting these fish easily approaches philosophical debate but genetic diversity is an important thing to protect.
“A lot of people ask what’s so important about these four fish species… don’t they live somewhere else?” he said. “These fish don’t live anywhere else… These fish are the true natives of the Colorado River Basin… If we don’t recover them here, they won’t be anywhere else.”
Until humans have a better understanding of DNA and what makes us tick, it is crucial to preserve all iterations of life, Hebein said.
“Until we can figure that out, we really need to conserve the DNA of all these living organisms because we don’t know how to make it,” he said.
But some are still opposed to a tournament that would potentially reduce the fishery in Elkhead Reservoir.
Steve Smith, Craig local and longtime Elkhead angler, had a sign posted in protest of the tournament at the turn off to the launch ramp.
“This is one of the closest lakes that we can fish,” he said. “It’s been holding it’s own for crappie or pike or bluegill but now they want to eliminate or lower the number of smallmouth or pike.”
Despite their differences, Smith and CPW officials were able to interact with respect. Smith understands that CPW has objectives to complete and CPW officials understand Smith’s passion for his hometown fishery.
Hebein said CPW is not out to kill the fishery, like many locals believe.
“We’re here to turn this lake into a far better fishery but to do that we have to suppress the numbers of big predators,” he said.
Hebein and CPW spokesman Mike Porras both said that without their efforts, Endangered Species Act compliance would be out the window and federal intrusion into local affairs would be even greater.
“Every water user would be compelled to deal with a Section 7 consultation with the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) on how their use of water would not impact the endangered fish,” he said. “That’s a lot of work and a lot of paperwork and that’s the reason behind why the recovery program has been such a valuable thing.”
Out of all the anglers interviewed by the Craig Daily Press on Saturday, only one was from Craig, and a gentleman from the Denver area joined him
The rest of the fishermen were from Grand Junction, Eagle or Rifle.
The tournament ends on June 19 with daily prizes for smallest, biggest and most fish caught. Catching a fish with a tag enters anglers into a raffle for big prizes, with the top prize being a new boat.
“The sooner that we can recover the endangered fish, the sooner we can have some more freedom,” said Hebein. “I’d like to encourage everyone to think about the recovery program and the value it has presented in everyone’s lives. How can we get together, recover the fish and move on from there?”
…the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program’s latest high-priority objective — reducing or eliminating nonnative predators from Elkhead Reservoir — has local fisherman in an uproar.
Elkhead Reservoir, which averages 130,000 people visiting during recreation days per year, is home to nonnative northern pike and smallmouth bass, making it a popular fishery for anglers from across Colorado.
But the same nonnatives that attract anglers to the reservoir are a threat to the four fish the recovery program is trying to save — the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker…
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recover Program Director Tom Chart said right now, the program’s biggest obstacle is managing nonnative fish, which prey on endangered fish and prevent populations from thriving.
“The greatest threat that we are dealing with right now is these nonnative, predatory fish,” he said.
Chart said that after ramping up attempts to control nonnatives living in the river, it has been become increasingly clear that source populations must be dealt with.
“Elkhead, unfortunately, I understand is a prime fishing location for some of the locals out there, but the amount of escapement of smallmouth bass and northern pike (into the Yampa River) is just intolerable,” he said.
Longtime fisher and Craig resident Burt Clements said he understands that under federal law the fish need to be recovered, but he doesn’t think Elkhead is the problem and rather than eradicating nonnatives, other approaches should be the priority.
“Until they start a real stocking program in the upper Yampa with adult pike minnow, they probably will not recover them in the Yampa River,” he said.
In 2015, the program spent about $1 million on recovery projects in the Yampa River, according to recovery program deputy director Angela Kantola. Efforts did include shocking nonnative fish in the Yampa.
“That total certainly exceeds $1 million when support activities (outreach and program management) for Yampa Basin projects are included,” Kantola wrote in an email.
To address the root of the nonnative problem — Elkhead Reservoir — the recovery program is installing a net on the reservoir to help prevent spillage of predatory nonnatives into the Yampa where the endangered fish live and thrive.
The cost of installation, which is scheduled for this fall, is estimated at $1.2 million. The Colorado Water Conservation Board is contributing $500,000 and the rest of the funding comes from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on behalf of the recovery program.
The program also is recruiting civilians for assistance.
A nine-day fishing tournament offering prizes totaling about $6,000 is scheduled to recruit anglers for the purpose of purging the lake of pike and smallmouth.
The tournament begins Saturday and ends June 19. The boat ramp will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. but anglers are welcome to stay on the reservoir overnight. If a participant catches a tagged fish, they are entered in a drawing for the top prizes, including a brand-new boat.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Senior Aquatic Biologist Sherman Hebein said the initial plan was to lower water levels in the lake and poison the fish population with rotenone. However, that approach turned out to be unpopular and unfeasible.
“What we decided was to actually get the public to assist us with our efforts through a tournament,” he said. “I’m prepared to give away prizes, significant prizes, to get the public involved in this project.”
Despite the hefty prizes, local fishermen are boycotting the tournament.
Craig resident Steve Smith said he has been fishing Elkhead Reservoir since it was opened and he can’t support a “kill tournament.”
“It’s like the WildEarth Guardians and the coal mines,” he said. “This is us going against the government.”
Smith said reducing the fishery at Elkhead would have a negative economic impact on Craig.
“Craig will lose some revenue because fisherman won’t come from all over,” he said. “The lake, as it was for the last few years, has been a destiny lake where people come to fish.”
Allen Hischke, another Craig local, expressed concerns about what he sees as intrusive and unnecessary and government involvement. His thoughts are that Elkhead should be left alone.
The recovery program’s nonnative fish coordinator Kevin McAbee said providing Section 7 compliance is where most of the general population should recognize the importance of the program.
“The success of our program is the Endangered Species Act compliance mechanism for all of these water development projects,” said McAbee. “If we didn’t work together to recover these fish then every time that water development wanted to take place anywhere in the Colorado River Basin, it was going to be a fairly contentious endangered species act consultation,”
Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid said he supports the local fishermen and hopes for a reasonable compromise ensuring a successful recovery and the preservation of Elkhead’s fishery.
Spring snowmelt runoff in the Colorado Rocky Mountains has triggered the spawning and emergence of endangered razorback sucker fish populations in the Green River downstream from Flaming Gorge Dam, Utah. Larval emergence in the river was observed on May 28, 2016.
To assist the survival of this endangered fish population, Bureau of Reclamation officials will gradually increase water released from Flaming Gorge Dam from the current flow of 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 8,600 cfs beginning Tuesday, May 31, 2016. The rate of release will reach 8,600 cfs on Friday, June 3, 2016, and will remain at that flow rate until further notice. However, Reclamation officials anticipate the release to remain at this rate for only 7 to 14 days beyond June 3.
At the highest rate, Flaming Gorge reservoir will release approximately 4,600 cfs through the Flaming Gorge Dam powerplant, allowing power generation to reach its full capacity of approximately 150 megawatts. Another 4,000 cfs will be released through the dam’s bypass tubes to reach the total of 8,600 cfs.
Projected peak flow on the Green River at Jensen, Utah, resulting from the combined flows of Flaming Gorge Dam releases and the Yampa River, will be approximately 22,000 to 24,000 cubic feet per second. These projections are close to flood stage and Reclamation officials urge caution while recreating or farming along the Green River during the next few weeks.
Scientists monitor critical habitat to detect the first emergence of razorback sucker larvae as a “trigger” for this type of release by Reclamation in cooperation with the State of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. A major purpose of the higher release is to transport as many larval fish as possible into critical nursery habitats located in the floodplains along the Green River, downstream of the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers. The increased releases from the dam, combined with the Yampa River flows, will provide the maximum possible flow of water to transport the larval fish.
Reclamation consulted with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources concerning possible 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.
Meanwhile, Granby Reservoir should fill and spill this year. Here’s a report from Lance Maggart writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News:
Things look to be shaping up nicely in terms of water levels for 2016. The Colorado River District recently hosted a “Grand County State of the River” meeting at Mountain Parks Electric in Granby. During the meeting representatives from the Federal Bureau of Reclamation informed attendees their prediction models indicate Granby Reservoir will physically fill again this year, sometime around the second week of July at which point those administering the water flows will begin bypassing additional water downstream.
Officials expect the massive reservoir to spill slightly, around 1,700 acre-feet of water, right at maximum flow times. Bureau of Reclamation representatives said that if Granby does spill they anticipate moving the excess water through the outlet works for the reservoir’s dam.
So far 2016 has been a fairly average year in terms of precipitation. Reservoirs along the eastern slope of the continental divide are mostly full and transmountain diversions will likely be diminished because of storage levels in places like Horsetooth and Carter Lake Reservoirs.
Willow Creek Reservoir, a relatively small reservoir located just a few miles directly west of Granby Reservoir has seen high levels of runoff already and officials anticipate pumping roughly 40,000 acre-feet of water from Willow Creek into Granby Reservoir this summer. Because of storage limits water from Willow Creek Reservoir is already being bypassed downstream.
Because of the high water levels anticipated for Willow Creek Reservoir and the rest of the Three Lakes Colorado River Collection System officials do not expect to pump any water up from the Windy Gap Reservoir, located west of Granby on US Highway 40 and downstream from Granby Reservoir.
Existing directives from the US Secretary of the Interior require at least 75 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water be released from Granby Reservoir throughout the summer. The Bureau of Reclamation will maintain releases of 75 cfs from Granby Reservoir through October this year as part of the ongoing Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.
Spring runoff pumped up by water released from El Vado Reservoir today [May 25, 2016] will push flows on the Rio Chama and Rio Grande up to as much as 4,000 cubic feet per second, the swiftest rate in recent memory, in a multiagency effort to benefit the environment and boost silvery minnow spawning.
“Today will be our high-flow day,” said Carolyn Donnelly, water operations supervisor for the Albuquerque office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. “We are going up to 4,000 cfs out of El Vado for the first time since I don’t know when.”
In 2014, the spring peak flow was only 1,500 cfs, and last year, the best flow year since 2010, the rate at Albuquerque’s Central Avenue bridge was measured at just under 3,000 cfs.
Donnelly said this week’s fast-moving water on the Rio Chama between El Vado, 80 miles northwest of Santa Fe, and Abiquiu Dam, 60 miles northwest of Santa Fe, will break up channel vegetation that is harmful to the ecology.
“When the channel is static, native species, small invertebrates such as snails, for example, don’t do well,” she said.
The one-two punch of spring runoff and released storage water will provide the robust flow that cues the spawning of the endangered silvery minnow, found in the Rio Grande from Cochiti Dam, 50 miles north of Albuquerque, to Elephant Butte Reservoir, five miles north of Truth or Consequences.
Donnelly said the release from Cochiti Dam will be about 3,300 cfs for about two weeks. That rate will benefit the entire ecosystem as well as the minnow.
“The timing of the release is important to the minnow,” Donnelly said. “Conditions are looking really good. We had more snow in April in the Rio Chama watershed and also up in Colorado on the Rio Grande. We are going to start seeing high water from Colorado real soon. And since it’s late May, the water is warmer and the fish (minnow) like that.”
Agencies collaborating with Reclamation in the project are the Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the Rio Chama Watershed Partnership and the Rio Grande Compact Commission, which represent the compact states of New Mexico, Texas and Colorado.
A resolution approved in March by the [Rio Grande] Compact Commission made this week’s high-flow push possible by allowing the storage of about 40,000 acre-feet of water in El Vado between May 2 and May 20.
From the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District (Click through for the agenda):
Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, in partnership with the Colorado River District and the Eagle River Watershed Council, is hosting the Eagle River Valley State of the River community meeting, Monday, May 16, at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards.
All members of the public are invited to hear about issues that affect Gore Creek, the Eagle River, the Colorado River, Western Colorado’s changing climate, local water supply, and streamflow and runoff projections. A reception with food and soft drinks will be held at 5:15 p.m., with presentations scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
For more information, contact Diane Johnson, Communications and Public Affairs Manager, at 970-477-5457.