Larimer County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife coordinate Greenback cutthroat trout release

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

Specialists with the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources and Colorado Parks and Wildlife carried 269 greenback cutthroat trout in backpacks — protected in small plastic bags filled with water — about 2.5 miles to a section of Sand Creek.

There, they placed the fish in the waters and let them swim free — an effort to reintroduce Colorado’s state fish into its native region, the Platte River Basin, and to study whether they will thrive in a unique stream versus non-native brook trout…

The greenbacks made their way onto the endangered species list until, several decades ago, researchers discovered what they thought were a population of this species. Efforts to revive and reintroduce the species led to the fish being downgraded to a threatened species by 1978.

But genetics, which have improved in the past 15 years, proved experts wrong. These fish were not genetically pure greenback cutthroat trout.

A colony of fish in Bear Creek near Colorado Springs, however, was discovered within the past five years and is believed to be the only one left in the state.

Genetic testing by researchers from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, University of Colorado and Colorado State University compared these fish to samples that were collected in the 1860s and preserved at the Smithsonian Institution and Harvard Museum and proved that they were in fact, pure greenback cutthroat trout, Kehmeier explained.

Fish biologists have since been conserving and growing the population of this fish to put them back into their native habitat.

Populations have been introduced into Zimmerman Lake on top of Cameron Pass and Rock Creek in South Park and now into Sand Creek on Larimer County’s Red Mountain Open Space. This fall, more will go into Sand Creek, a small 3-mile stretch that is sustained by spring inputs and rainfall, as well as into Herman Gulch in Clear Creek.

Larimer County had hoped to reintroduce the greenback cutthroat trout into Sand Creek and included that as a goal in its plan for the open space.

And recently, the timing was right because there were extra fish available at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife hatchery near Salida.

So, together, the county and state agencies put fish into the middle third of Sand Creek.

But first, they delivered an electrical shock to the one-mile middle section of the stream and removed all the nonnative brook trout to create a setting in which to study the fish. (The 875 trout they removed were donated to the Rocky Mountain Raptor Center for lunches and dinners.)

The first release, on July 21, involved putting yearlings that were about 5 inches long into one section of the water.

The second release, in September, will put fish into a section of the river in which brook trout still exist as well as the stretch that was recently stocked. These 1,000 fish will be 1-month old.

Then, biologists will study the population for years to come and see how the greenback cutthroat trout survive. And in about three years, time will reveal whether the fish not only survive but also are able to reproduce and thrive.

Removing Tamarisk on the San Miguel River — The Nature Conservancy

From the Nature Conservancy:

How an ambitious tamarisk removal project on the San Miguel River set the precedent for future restoration work.

TAMARISK: A THREAT TO THE RIVER
The free-flowing San Miguel River extends for 80 miles from high-alpine headwaters above Telluride, to a desert confluence with the Dolores River near the Utah border. The area is marked by Cottonwood forests with understory of willows and skunkbrush sumac and supports an array of wildlife such as great blue heron, American dipper, black swift, river otter, beaver, black bear, and mountain lion.

In 2005, a watershed-scale conservation plan developed by the Conservancy and partners identified the invasion of non-native species specifically tamarisk, Russian olive, and Chinese elm as the highest threat to the riparian vegetation along the San Miguel River.

Tamarisk replaces native vegetation, and accumulates high concentrations of salts in the soil, threatening plant and animal species and local economy dependent on the river and riparian systems. Removing tamarisk and other nonnative woody plants from riparian corridors improves water quantity and quality, and restores the health of native vegetation.

AN AMBITIOUS GOAL
In response to this, the Conservancy designed a restoration plan and set an ambitious goal of making the San Miguel the first tamarisk-free river system in the Western United States, something that had never been tried before. Working with community members, landowners, the Bureau of Land Management and local government officials, the Conservancy educated stakeholders on the benefits of the project for the river ecosystem and garnered support from almost everyone in the watershed.

Starting in 2007, the project took seven years to complete. While not reaching the goal of a fully tamarisk-free river system, the woody invasive species abundance is drastically reduced in all of the areas that were treated. Analysis done in 2014 has shown that the removal work was a success and minimal continued management is needed.

A MODEL FOR RIPARIAN RESTORATION
“This comprehensive project was a first of its kind in the western United States and has become a model for large scale riparian restoration,” said Terri Schulz, director of landscape science and management for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado.

Efforts have expanded to projects on the Dolores River and prompted the establishment and expansion of groups such as the Tamarisk Coalition. By thinking about this work in the context of the whole watershed, the Conservancy was able to reach out to a wide variety of partners to provide leadership and manpower to the project and to grow the capacity for this work moving beyond the San Miguel watershed.

As the Conservancy plans for future restoration efforts, the tamarisk removal project on the San Miguel River provides an outline for how to successfully work together with communities, landowners and the government to complete projects and reach largescale conservation goals.

#ColoradoRiver: CPW hopes public can understand its efforts at Elkhead Reservoir — Craig Daily Press #COriver

Elkhead Reservoir
Elkhead Reservoir

From The Craig Daily Press (Patrick Kelly):

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?”

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

Green Mountain Reservoir prone to invasive species invasion — The Summit Daily News

Zebra and Quagga Mussels
Zebra and Quagga Mussels

From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

With boating season poised to kick off on Memorial Day weekend, it’s time to become vigilant over aquatic nuisance species — ANS, for short. These non-native troublemakers often physically change local ecosystems by altering traditional food chains, damage water infrastructure and degrade water quality, as well as limit fishing and recreational opportunities.

In Colorado, the main threat is zebra and quagga mussels, two freshwater species that are closely related and originated in Western Europe and Eastern Asia. These critters seek out dark and discreet crevices and clefts and fasten themselves to the underside of boats for protection.

Last year was a record year in the state for the number of boats found to possess these mussels by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), the agency charged with most recreation, fish and wildlife management. By this same time in 2015, inspectors discovered three boats with the nuisance species and pinpointed 24 by the end of the season.

“It’s a real threat,” said Robert Walters, invasive species specialist for CPW. “In 2016, we’ve already intercepted five watercraft coming into the state with confirmed zebra and quagga mussels, so we’re on pace to exceed what we did last year.”

This particular invasive species removes major quantities of plankton, which act as food for juvenile fish, and other nutrients from the water. On top of that, if zebra and quagga mussels then go undetected and a boat encrusted with them launches into a different body of water and unintentionally transfers them, it is practically impossible to remove them permanently once they occupy it.

At many well-attended boating spots throughout the state, CPW relies exclusively on boater education programs through prevention campaigns and instructive signage to offset ANS issues. There are other locations, though, that are considered high-priority or high-risk due to their proximity to the Front Range.

On the White River National Forest, there are just three reservoirs that are considered at heightened risk from these invasive species entering the water from boaters. Those are Dillon Reservoir, Ruedi Reservoir near Basalt in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District and the Green Mountain Reservoir on the northern end of Summit County along the Blue River.

Denver Water, which manages Dillon Reservoir, pays for boat inspectors before vessels launch if they’ve been out of state or for residents if they’ve been in local, known infected water. Inspectors at the Ruedi and Green Mountain have in the past been financed by a combination of U.S. Forest Service regional dollars that get split up among the many districts, in addition to CPW funding.

But, as annual Forest Service budgets continue to dwindle — the White River had a general allocation of $31 million five years ago and for 2016 is operating on just $18 million — the local districts have had to make difficult choices and purge maintaining reserves for nonessential programs such as invasive species prevention. The Ruedi still has some funding streams to keep its program running, but Green Mountain has been less fortunate.

“As we’ve declined in our funding, we’ve had to prioritize what we do at the forest level,” said Bill Jackson, Dillon district ranger. “So what do we fund — seasonal employees, people, other programs or (invasive species)? Those are tough decisions to make, and some people think (infestation) is inevitable or don’t think that it’s money well spent.”

The predicament is, however, that without proper prevention measures, the cost of potential mussel contamination can be much, much higher. On some multiuse reservoirs around the country — Green Mountain is also the location of the Green Mountain Dam — maintenance can skyrocket where these problem species land because they can cause water treatment, irrigation and power generation facility snags.

“If there were quagga and zebra mussels in there,” said County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, “it would cost millions and millions of dollars annually. There is a huge, very expensive problem with them in Lake Powell, for instance, and a lot of Arizona reservoirs.”

[…]

Pueblo Reservoir is the only one in the state known to have the quagga mussel, though those spotted have only been in a developmental larval stage known as a veliger. While not yet pervasive, the goal remains to avert this problem in other favorite, yet susceptible, sites for boating such as Green Mountain.

“It’s just the veligers that have been detected,” Mike Porras, CPW’s public information officer, said of Pueblo Reservoir. “The inspections are critical to help keep our waters from becoming infested.”

Stiegelmeier, along with the Dillon Ranger District and CPW, are optimistic they can locate the necessary dollars to keep up mandatory inspections before boats launch into Green Mountain Reservoir. They are looking to the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns and manages the dam there, to take on the burden of these costs, while also still searching for other proceeds.

“We are doing our best to find money for these programs,” said Jackson. “If the funding doesn’t come through, then, like other locations, we’ll have to rely on educating boaters, signs and really getting the word out through websites and social media. Otherwise, we’ll just have to close the area to boating, and we don’t want to do that.

“We haven’t given up and we’re still beating the bushes for help,” he added, “and still looking at options here in Summit County. We’re doing what we can.”

Arkansas Valley: Wetter conditions = fewer tumbleweeds

Below is a video from 2013 when they were plowing tumbleweeds in Crowley County:

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It rained so much in 2015, that you would expect another stampede of tumbleweeds by this time.

But that hasn’t happened.

There’s not a whole lot of rolling and tumbling going on.
“We’ve seen less, but we’ve had a lot in the pastures,” said Gary Walker, whose 63,000acre ranches border Fort Carson in northern Pueblo County. “My biggest problems are from Fort Carson and the prairie dog towns.”

Walker thinks a combination of more moisture, the timing of the rains and grazing contributed to a decline in the Russian thistle, the primary tumbleweed culprit.

Typically, the plants can grow up to 5 or 6 feet before breaking off and blowing in the wind. During the drought of 2011-13, they clogged ditches, skirted up against fences and blew into piles across most of Southeastern Colorado. In some areas, there were stacks up to the eaves of houses.
But there has been a lull this year.

“We’ve seen some, but with the winds we’ve had in recent weeks haven’t created the big piles we were seeing,” said Bruce Fickenscher, rangeland specialist for Colorado State University Extension. “In Crowley County, we mowed them and grazed them more. There have been some places where the weeds blow in, but they’re staying put, more than in the past few years.”

Walker said the plants grew with deeper roots, and also credits more cattle with cropping them closer to the ground earlier.

“In the past, when we were moving more cattle, there were fewer tumbleweeds,” Walker said. “When we get back to a more normal deal, we’ll be able to graze more cattle.”

But the natural conditions also play a role.

“By and large, it’s because of the way the rains came and the size of them,” Fickenscher said. “The weeds provided some protection for the native plants underneath. With Russian thistle and kochia, the taproot is deep and brings nutrients up.”

As long as the moisture continues, the tumbleweeds might not be as big a problem.

“We’re sitting better this year than we have been in a while,” Fickenscher said. “After a couple years of rain, we have more moisture in the subsoil.”

A sweet spot for fish water: water for ancient fish a bother for veteran anglers

The crest of the dam across the Fryingpan River that forms Ruedi Reservoir, which can hold 102,373 acre-feet of water. Photo courtesy Bureau of Reclamation.
The crest of the dam across the Fryingpan River that forms Ruedi Reservoir, which can hold 102,373 acre-feet of water. Photo courtesy Bureau of Reclamation.

BASALT – Anglers, and almost certainly fish, can sense how much water is running down a river at any given time.

Last summer and fall, for example, some fly-fishermen who regularly wade in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir thought there was too much water flowing out of the reservoir, as the river was running at 275 to 300 cubic feet per second. At that level, the river can be hard to cross in places.

Flows were up in the Fryingpan last year because a record amount of water was being released from Ruedi for the benefit of the 400 or so remaining Colorado pikeminnow living in 15 miles of the Colorado River between Grand Junction and Palisade.

Yet there still wasn’t enough water in the river for the pikeminnow last summer, despite a total 24,412 acre-feet of water released from Ruedi and sent down the Fryingpan, Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers. The “fish water” sent out of Ruedi last summer and fall may have helped the native fish struggling to survive in the heavily depleted Colorado River, but it still wasn’t enough on many days in August, September and October to reach the target flow level of 1,240 cfs set by biologists.

The same water sent downstream to make ancient fish in the Colorado River happier made veteran anglers on the Fryingpan River crankier. A similar scenario may play out again this summer, as up to 27,412 acre-feet of “fish water” is poised to be released from Ruedi this year to benefit the fish in the Colorado. On its way down, the water could cause late summer and early fall flows to rise again in the Fryingpan to 250, 300 or 350 cfs.

Ruede fish water releases by AF and CFS

A graph from USFWS showing the flow target of 1,240 cfs in 15-mile last August, September and October, actual flow in blue, and what flow would have been without releases of fish water from various upstream reservoirs. In short, the fish water helps meet the target flows, but it is still not enough. Source: USFWS
A graph from USFWS showing the flow target of 1,240 cfs in 15-mile last August, September and October, actual flow in blue, and what flow would have been without releases of fish water from various upstream reservoirs. In short, the fish water helps meet the target flows, but it is still not enough. Source: USFWS

Experienced anglers

“My perfect flow for the ‘Pan, where everything is gravy, dry-fly fishing is perfect, and older people can get around, is 220 cfs,” said Marty Joseph, manager of Frying Pan Anglers. “Three hundred cfs is on the high side, especially for the older guys.”

A big part of “wadability” is “crossability,” or whether someone can get across the river to fish a better hole without the water rising above their waist and sweeping them off their feet.

“There are a lot of spots on the river, especially where I like to fish, where its crossable at 250 cfs with a client,” Joseph said. “But at 300 cfs, you can’t cross at that same spot.”

Last year’s flow, especially the steady 300 cfs that ran down the ‘Pan in late September and early October, caught the attention of many of his regular clients.

“We do get most of our experienced guys at the end of season, and a lot of them are older, and a lot of them are very particular, and they’ve been coming here for 10 or 15 years, and then all of a sudden they see this hike in the flows, and they’re having trouble with that,” Joseph said.

140730_fishing_JC

Frustrating flow

At least 10 of his clients wrote letters to him complaining about the high flows, and those letters recently were sent to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which has a role in sending fish water out of Ruedi.

“We enjoyed our time at Taylor Creek cabins again this fall,” wrote one client to Frying Pan Anglers, “but, I should let you know that fishing was not very good attributed to the very high flows (300 cfs) in the Frying Pan (sic) River. These flows prevented us from wading in many areas of the river we are accustomed to fish. This was disappointing and frustrating.”

Frying Pan Anglers is one of the two larger fly-fishing guide services in Basalt. The other is Taylor Creek Fly Shops.

An economic analysis commissioned in 2014 by the Roaring Fork Conservancy found that anglers spend $3.3 million a year on fly-fishing trips to Basalt, factoring in their total spending from fishing equipment to guides to lodging.

A survey included with the analysis found that “wadeable flows on the river” was the second highest concern of visiting anglers after “insect hatches.” Of those surveyed, 37 percent said they would spend more days on the Fryingpan if the number of days when the river was flowing over 250 cfs was reduced.

But the flow levels out of Ruedi could be going up in the future.

A view of Ruedi Reservoir showing the face of the dam, the spillway, the building that houses a hydropower plant, and an overflow outlet just above it. The pool just below the outlets often has the biggest fish on the river lurking within it.
A view of Ruedi Reservoir showing the face of the dam, the spillway, the building that houses a hydropower plant, and an overflow outlet just above it. The pool just below the outlets often has the biggest fish on the river lurking within it.

Water flavors

There are three types of water released each summer and fall from Ruedi, a major storage reservoir for the Colorado River Basin opened in 1968 with a capacity of 102,373 acre feet. The first is a base flow, which in the absence of other water is 110 cfs. On top of that can be a fairly steady flow of “fish water” released at a rate that has varied over the last five years from 100 to 189 cfs. Last year, the flow rate of the fish water from Ruedi did not go above 175 cfs.

And on top of the layer of fish water can be a relatively thin layer of “contract water.” That’s water released in accordance with contracts the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which built the reservoir, has with 30 different owners. These pools of stored water are not often released, but the contracts do range from as little as 15 to much as 12,000 acre feet and collectively total 39,000 acre feet, so there is potential for significant future releases.

The dam manager working for the Bureau of Reclamation looks for the sweet spot on the Fryingpan and tries to deliver enough fish and contract water to meet demands while also keeping the river at a level that works for anglers. But that may be harder to do in the future, as there is more fish water than ever in Ruedi, and all of the available contract water has been sold, which means more people may call for it to be released, especially in the late summer and fall.

A map showing the location of the 15-mile reach.
A map showing the location of the 15-mile reach.

Sweet spot

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service value water in Ruedi because it only takes two days for it to get to the critical reach where the pikeminnows and other endangered fish enjoy “feeding, breeding and sheltering.”

Over the years, officials have developed a pool of 15,412.5 acre feet of fish water in Ruedi. Then last year, the Colorado Water Conservation Board gave Fish and Wildlife another pool of water by leasing 12,000 acre feet from Ute Water Conservancy District, a water provider in Grand Junction.

Ute Water bought 12,000 acre feet of water in Ruedi in 2013 for $15.6 million to use as a back-up supply. It’s the biggest pool of contract water in the reservoir. And rather than leave it there, Ute Water entered into a lease with the CWCB to use it as fish water in 2015.

The CWCB, in coordination with Fish and Wildlife, then released 9,000 acre feet of the 12,000 acre-foot pool in September and October. It would have released more if not for its self-imposed limitation of flows not to exceed 300 cfs.

Ute Water plans to lease 12,000 acre feet to the CWCB again this year to send down the Fryingpan River and on to the Colorado River to benefit the fish. Between the existing 15,412.5 acre feet of fish water in Ruedi, that could bring up releases to 27,412.5, which the ancient native fish might appreciate.

Danielle Tremblay of Colorado Parks and Wildlife holding a Colorado pikeminnow collected on the Colorado River in Grand Junction. An apex predator in the Colorado, pikeminnows used to be found up to six feet long and weighing 100 pounds.
Danielle Tremblay of Colorado Parks and Wildlife holding a Colorado pikeminnow collected on the Colorado River in Grand Junction. An apex predator in the Colorado, pikeminnows used to be found up to six feet long and weighing 100 pounds.

Big, old fish

The Colorado pikeminnow, which is considered an indicator species for ecosystem health in the 15-mile reach, “evolved as the main predator in the Colorado River system,” states a 1999 programmatic biological opinion, or PBO, that guides recovery efforts for the fish.

“It is an elongated pike-like fish that during predevelopment times may have grown as large as 6 feet in length and weighed nearly 100 pounds,” the PBO states.

One pikeminnow with a radio tag was tracked swimming up the Colorado River nearly 200 miles from Lake Powell to the 15-mile reach above Grand Junction between April and September 1982, a year of very high flows.

Another endangered fish, the humpback chub, likes to live in deep fast-moving water. About 1,800 to 1,900 wild native chub are still making a go of it in the Black Rocks and Westwater sections of the Colorado, downstream from Loma.

Two other species, the razorback sucker and bonytail, have had a tougher time over the years, although hatchery-bred suckers are now said to be doing fairly well.

A razorback sucker fresh from the Colorado River.
A razorback sucker fresh from the Colorado River.
A graph, courtesy of the Colorado River District, showing the releases of fish water in 2015 from four Western Slope reservoirs: Green Mtn, Ruedi, Wolford and Granby. The graph shows that flows from Ruedi, in blue, were fairly steady last summer and fall.
A graph, courtesy of the Colorado River District, showing the releases of fish water in 2015 from four Western Slope reservoirs: Green Mtn, Ruedi, Wolford and Granby. The graph shows that flows from Ruedi, in blue, were fairly steady last summer and fall.

Of AF and CFS

To make up for low flows in the Colorado where the fish live, a total of 1.3 million acre feet of water since 1998 has been sent downstream from regional reservoirs. Of that total, 329,032 acre feet came out of Ruedi and flowed down the Fryingpan. On its way, the water has apparently helped, not hurt, the trout stream, but it has compromised wadability.

Complaints about flow levels have been recognized in previous environmental reviews on the impacts of storing and releasing fish water in Ruedi. And the benchmark to try and hit was 250 cfs.

But a recent modeling effort by Colorado Parks and Wildlife suggested 300 cfs was also an acceptable wadability level, and that level was used last year to guide releases on the Fryingpan.

“We have done some surveys in the past, and using modeling, came up with 300 to 350 cfs is where you significantly lose wadablity in the river,” said Kendall Bakich, a wildlife aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “But angler experience is a little different than what a model can say, so that’s where that 300 target came from.”

But on March 21, after reading the letters to Frying Pan Anglers, officials from the CWCB and the Fish and Wildlife Service said at a meeting in El Jebel that they will try to keep releases to the 250 cfs level this summer.

“Our board said that staff should work with the Bureau of Reclamation and angling interests to try and accommodate to the extent practicable angling concerns so that releases of water under the water lease agreement shall not cause the flows to exceed 250 cfs,” said Ted Kowalski, a section chief of the CWCB, referring to the CWCB’s recent approval of renewing the lease with Ute Water for the 12,000 acre feet of water.

It’s not a firm cap, though, and if necessary to meet the goals of the endangered fish program, releases could go to 300 cfs, and the river to 350 cfs after tributary flow is factored in.

Joseph at Fryingpan Anglers said the fishing wasn’t bad at 300 cfs, and that experienced guides can still find good spots to wade with clients. But Joseph has his concerns.

“My worry is this year they say 300 is acceptable and next year it’s going to be 350, and two, four, five years, it is going to 400 cfs,” Joseph said. “They’re slowly just going to keep moving on it.”

That’s also a concern of some local officials.

“One of the fears that we’ve had from the very beginning here, and one these days it’s going to come true, its that the Fryingpan is going to be converted from a gold medal trout fishery, with a occasional high releases, to a sluiceway that does basically nothing but deliver water downstream,” said Mark Fuller, the director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, which recently sent comments on the issue to the CWCB.

Personnel from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service electrofishing on the Colorado River. The results from monitoring  fish populations on the Colorado between Rifle and Lake Powell is now of regional interest.
Personnel from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service electrofishing on the Colorado River. The results from monitoring fish populations on the Colorado between Rifle and Lake Powell is now of regional interest.

Fish Patrol

Fuller and regional water managers understand the value of working to keep the endangered fish alive in order to avoid enforcement of the Endangered Species Act.

“The 500-pound gorilla in the room is the PBO,” said Larry Clever, general manager of Ute Water, referring to the 1999 programmatic biological opinion.

The PBO requires that progress be made on sustaining the endangered fish. If not, an extensive environmental reviews known as “section 7 consultations” may be required under the ESA for all new or improved water projects on the upper Colorado River system.

“If those four endangered fish don’t make it, everybody has a section 7, for everything,” Clever said. “And, oh, we did one on a pipeline expansion. It cost $2.4 million. If the PBO goes south, we’re all in trouble.”

A USFWS employee holding a smallmouth bass, caught via electrofishing, that just swallowed a native bluehead sucker. Non-native fish eating  young native fish is a big obstacle to developing healthy populations of native fish.
A USFWS employee holding a smallmouth bass, caught via electrofishing, that just swallowed a native bluehead sucker. Non-native fish eating young native fish is a big obstacle to developing healthy populations of native fish.

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program has been managing regional efforts to see what can be done for the fish both in the spring, when peak flows of at least 15,660 cfs are important to the fish, and in the late summer and early fall.

The goal is to stabilize populations through a variety of methods, including river flows, removing predatory non-native fish that eat young native fish and improving native fish passage around diversion dams.

As the 2016 runoff season approaches, water managers up and down the Colorado River are poised to again coordinate, via a weekly conference call, the release of fish water from reservoirs in the upper Colorado River basin.

They’ll do so for the sake of the remaining 400 adult Colorado pikeminnows, and their optimistic offspring, who desire at least 810 cfs of water in the fall, if it is a dry year, and 1,260 cfs if it is a normal year.

And for visiting anglers, they’ll also work to keep flows in the Fryingpan near 250 cfs.


Editor’s note:
Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Sunday, March 27, 2016.

Tamarisk Coalition Receives Funding — WesternSlopeNow.com

Colorado National Monument from the Colorado River Trail near Fruita September 2014
Colorado National Monument from the Colorado River Trail near Fruita September 2014

From WesternSlopeNow.com (Andy Chilian):

The Tamarisk Coalition announces they recently received two grants on the behalf of the Desert Rivers Collaborative that will greatly help their cause. Tamarisk officials say grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Bacon Family Foundation, totaling more than $200 thousand, will allow the coalition to continue streamside restoration efforts in the Grand Valley.

It is projected that approximately 70 acres of additional riverside habitat will be restored, thanks to $175 thousand from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and $30 thousand from the Bacon Family Foundation. The funding will be used to pay different crews and contractors to use native plantings for re-vegetation and remove tamarisk, an invasive plant from the Eurasia region, as well as Russian olive, a thorny shrub and small tree that have overtaken a lot of riverside area.

In addition, the funding will tremendously aid in reducing wildfire risk and improving river function, soil conditions, and water quality, and ultimately improve our local habitat for fish and wildlife.

“The overall goal is to improve riparian health here in the Grand Valley, and it’s a continuation of projects that have been going on for several years,” says Shannon Hatch with the Tamarisk Coalition.

Funding from the Bacon Family Foundation will also allow the hiring of an intern to assist with project mapping, maintenance efforts, data management, technical assistance, community outreach, and engagement.