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

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