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.


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