#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

#ColoradoRiver: Elkhead Reservoir, non-native predatory fish, endangered fish, sport-fishing #COriver

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

From The Craig Daily Press (Patrick Kelly):

…the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program’s latest high-priority objective — reducing or eliminating nonnative predators from Elkhead Reservoir — has local fisherman in an uproar.

Elkhead Reservoir, which averages 130,000 people visiting during recreation days per year, is home to nonnative northern pike and smallmouth bass, making it a popular fishery for anglers from across Colorado.

But the same nonnatives that attract anglers to the reservoir are a threat to the four fish the recovery program is trying to save — the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker…

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recover Program Director Tom Chart said right now, the program’s biggest obstacle is managing nonnative fish, which prey on endangered fish and prevent populations from thriving.

“The greatest threat that we are dealing with right now is these nonnative, predatory fish,” he said.

Chart said that after ramping up attempts to control nonnatives living in the river, it has been become increasingly clear that source populations must be dealt with.

Elkhead Reservoir
Elkhead Reservoir

“Elkhead, unfortunately, I understand is a prime fishing location for some of the locals out there, but the amount of escapement of smallmouth bass and northern pike (into the Yampa River) is just intolerable,” he said.

Longtime fisher and Craig resident Burt Clements said he understands that under federal law the fish need to be recovered, but he doesn’t think Elkhead is the problem and rather than eradicating nonnatives, other approaches should be the priority.

“Until they start a real stocking program in the upper Yampa with adult pike minnow, they probably will not recover them in the Yampa River,” he said.

In 2015, the program spent about $1 million on recovery projects in the Yampa River, according to recovery program deputy director Angela Kantola. Efforts did include shocking nonnative fish in the Yampa.

“That total certainly exceeds $1 million when support activities (outreach and program management) for Yampa Basin projects are included,” Kantola wrote in an email.

To address the root of the nonnative problem — Elkhead Reservoir — the recovery program is installing a net on the reservoir to help prevent spillage of predatory nonnatives into the Yampa where the endangered fish live and thrive.

The cost of installation, which is scheduled for this fall, is estimated at $1.2 million. The Colorado Water Conservation Board is contributing $500,000 and the rest of the funding comes from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on behalf of the recovery program.

The program also is recruiting civilians for assistance.

A nine-day fishing tournament offering prizes totaling about $6,000 is scheduled to recruit anglers for the purpose of purging the lake of pike and smallmouth.

The tournament begins Saturday and ends June 19. The boat ramp will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. but anglers are welcome to stay on the reservoir overnight. If a participant catches a tagged fish, they are entered in a drawing for the top prizes, including a brand-new boat.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Senior Aquatic Biologist Sherman Hebein said the initial plan was to lower water levels in the lake and poison the fish population with rotenone. However, that approach turned out to be unpopular and unfeasible.

“What we decided was to actually get the public to assist us with our efforts through a tournament,” he said. “I’m prepared to give away prizes, significant prizes, to get the public involved in this project.”

Despite the hefty prizes, local fishermen are boycotting the tournament.

Craig resident Steve Smith said he has been fishing Elkhead Reservoir since it was opened and he can’t support a “kill tournament.”

“It’s like the WildEarth Guardians and the coal mines,” he said. “This is us going against the government.”

Smith said reducing the fishery at Elkhead would have a negative economic impact on Craig.

“Craig will lose some revenue because fisherman won’t come from all over,” he said. “The lake, as it was for the last few years, has been a destiny lake where people come to fish.”

Allen Hischke, another Craig local, expressed concerns about what he sees as intrusive and unnecessary and government involvement. His thoughts are that Elkhead should be left alone.

The recovery program’s nonnative fish coordinator Kevin McAbee said providing Section 7 compliance is where most of the general population should recognize the importance of the program.

“The success of our program is the Endangered Species Act compliance mechanism for all of these water development projects,” said McAbee. “If we didn’t work together to recover these fish then every time that water development wanted to take place anywhere in the Colorado River Basin, it was going to be a fairly contentious endangered species act consultation,”

Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid said he supports the local fishermen and hopes for a reasonable compromise ensuring a successful recovery and the preservation of Elkhead’s fishery.

#Runoff news: Flaming Gorge Dam to Increase Water Releases Tuesday — USBR

razorbacksucker

From email from Reclamation:

Spring snowmelt runoff in the Colorado Rocky Mountains has triggered the spawning and emergence of endangered razorback sucker fish populations in the Green River downstream from Flaming Gorge Dam, Utah. Larval emergence in the river was observed on May 28, 2016.

To assist the survival of this endangered fish population, Bureau of Reclamation officials will gradually increase water released from Flaming Gorge Dam from the current flow of 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 8,600 cfs beginning Tuesday, May 31, 2016. The rate of release will reach 8,600 cfs on Friday, June 3, 2016, and will remain at that flow rate until further notice. However, Reclamation officials anticipate the release to remain at this rate for only 7 to 14 days beyond June 3.

At the highest rate, Flaming Gorge reservoir will release approximately 4,600 cfs through the Flaming Gorge Dam powerplant, allowing power generation to reach its full capacity of approximately 150 megawatts. Another 4,000 cfs will be released through the dam’s bypass tubes to reach the total of 8,600 cfs.

Projected peak flow on the Green River at Jensen, Utah, resulting from the combined flows of Flaming Gorge Dam releases and the Yampa River, will be approximately 22,000 to 24,000 cubic feet per second. These projections are close to flood stage and Reclamation officials urge caution while recreating or farming along the Green River during the next few weeks.

Scientists monitor critical habitat to detect the first emergence of razorback sucker larvae as a “trigger” for this type of release by Reclamation in cooperation with the State of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. A major purpose of the higher release is to transport as many larval fish as possible into critical nursery habitats located in the floodplains along the Green River, downstream of the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers. The increased releases from the dam, combined with the Yampa River flows, will provide the maximum possible flow of water to transport the larval fish.

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

Meanwhile, Granby Reservoir should fill and spill this year. Here’s a report from Lance Maggart writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News:

Things look to be shaping up nicely in terms of water levels for 2016. The Colorado River District recently hosted a “Grand County State of the River” meeting at Mountain Parks Electric in Granby. During the meeting representatives from the Federal Bureau of Reclamation informed attendees their prediction models indicate Granby Reservoir will physically fill again this year, sometime around the second week of July at which point those administering the water flows will begin bypassing additional water downstream.

Officials expect the massive reservoir to spill slightly, around 1,700 acre-feet of water, right at maximum flow times. Bureau of Reclamation representatives said that if Granby does spill they anticipate moving the excess water through the outlet works for the reservoir’s dam.

So far 2016 has been a fairly average year in terms of precipitation. Reservoirs along the eastern slope of the continental divide are mostly full and transmountain diversions will likely be diminished because of storage levels in places like Horsetooth and Carter Lake Reservoirs.

Willow Creek Reservoir, a relatively small reservoir located just a few miles directly west of Granby Reservoir has seen high levels of runoff already and officials anticipate pumping roughly 40,000 acre-feet of water from Willow Creek into Granby Reservoir this summer. Because of storage limits water from Willow Creek Reservoir is already being bypassed downstream.

Because of the high water levels anticipated for Willow Creek Reservoir and the rest of the Three Lakes Colorado River Collection System officials do not expect to pump any water up from the Windy Gap Reservoir, located west of Granby on US Highway 40 and downstream from Granby Reservoir.

Existing directives from the US Secretary of the Interior require at least 75 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water be released from Granby Reservoir throughout the summer. The Bureau of Reclamation will maintain releases of 75 cfs from Granby Reservoir through October this year as part of the ongoing Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

The Routt County Commissioner’s pony up $5,000 for Yampa River study

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

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The last time the community funded a Yampa River management plan, in 2004, it was all about balancing the health of the town stretch of the Yampa with recreation. More than a decade later, plans are underway for a new river management plan, and this time, there is more emphasis on protecting the health of the river to help ensure ample water for the community in times of drought.

“In part, this is an update of the 2004 plan. But it’s more of a streamflow management plan, where we’ll be looking for target flows that support aquatic life and water quality,” city of Steamboat Springs Water Resources Manager Kelly Heaney said Tuesday after meeting with Routt County officials. “It’s almost like a drought resiliency plan for the river.”

And the new study will take in a longer stretch of the river — from the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area downstream to the city’s wastewater treatment plant west of town.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners agreed Tuesday to earmark $5,000 in its 2017 budget for a contribution toward a 50 percent local match of a $51,875 grant to fund the new management plan. The grant is part of $1 million allocated to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in accordance with one of the measurable objectives in Colorado’s landmark 2015 state water plan…

The [Colorado Water Plan] set the goal of covering 80 percent of a list of locally prioritized rivers with new stream management plans by 2030.

Heaney told the BOC that, with this grant, the Yampa will be among the first in the state to be the subject of such a study.

There is a plan underway on the Crystal River (upstream from Carbondale), Aspen and Pitkin County have begun work on a plan for the Roaring Fork and plans are in the works for the Colorado River and the San Miguel on the western side of the San Juan Mountains, Heaney reported.

“We’re kind of like pioneers, along with them,” she said.

Heaney said the Colorado Water Trust, which has, in the past, facilitated efforts to secure supplemental summer flows for the Yampa in drought years such as 2002 and 2012, will participate in the study. In 2002 and 2012, Colorado Parks and Wildlife placed a voluntary ban on fishing on the town stretch of the Yampa, because the shallow flows were too warm to hold desirable levels of dissolved oxygen for trout.

Water temperature and dissolved oxygen will be a part of the new river study, which will include a streamflow management plan meant to manage for target flows that support both aquatic life and water quality, Heaney said.

“We’re working with the Colorado Water Trust to get us to a place where we have a sustainable plan,” Heaney said.

The Water Trust will undertake a legal analysis of the city’s water rights and advise on different strategies to make the best use of them, she said. For example, strategies could include securing storage contracts, stream improvement projects and re-timing flows through wetlands.

Carpenter Ranch as a laboratory for conserving water — Steamboat Today #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Here’s an in-depth look at a fallowing experiment on the Carpenter Ranch in the Yampa Valley from Tom Ross writing in Steamboat Today. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Beginning in 2015, the Nature Conservancy committed four hay fields comprising 197 acres at the Carpenter Ranch to a multi-state pilot project conceived to determine how irrigated hay fields in the region would respond to being temporarily left fallow in order to leave more water flowing in the Yampa River. The stronger summer flows would support habitat and help to replenish the vast reservoirs of the Southwest that supply water to cities in Arizona, Nevada and Southern California.

The ranch is among five pilot sites in Colorado and five in Wyoming to make up the Colorado River System Conservation Program.

The Conservancy’s Yampa River Project Director Geoff Blakeslee told Steamboat Today in August 2015 that the water project essentially involves a water transfer plan that could someday allow ag water users to be compensated for temporarily taking water off their land to be used elsewhere.

“It’s very much an exploratory project,” Blakeslee said last year. “We’re doing what we call a split-season fallowing of four fields on Carpenter Ranch just to help with information gathering — what are the impacts to the ranch? What are the impacts to the river?”

It’s understood that the short-term consequences may be a smaller hay harvest that could support fewer cattle. But there are also benefits in the program that flow to the ranchers.

The $11 million program to conserve water is funded by water providers in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District.

The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” -- via The Mountain Town News
The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” — via The Mountain Town News

Introduction to the Yampa/White roundtable

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From Steamboat Today (Mary Brown):

As the new chair of the Yampa-White-Green Rivers Basin Round Table, I’m writing today to give an update on some of the water issues being addressed both in Northwest Colorado and throughout the state…

Members are elected and/or appointed to their positions per the requirements of the statute, and the roster is filled with people who have a passion for preserving the water in our region. Officers are elected annually and must represent the Yampa and White river basins.

Jackie Brown and Alden Vanden Brink, from Routt and Moffat counties respectively, now serve as the vice-chairs. Jon Hill from Rio Blanco is the immediate past-chair. We have met consistently since our formation to identify, quantify and address challenges of water quantity and quality for the Yampa, White and Green rivers.

The Yampa-White-Green Rivers Basin Round Table one of nine basin round tables in Colorado. During 2014 and 2015 our Round Table was engaged fully with the development of our basin implementation plan. We have authorized studies that help us understand the agricultural, industrial and municipal, environmental and recreation needs of Northwest Colorado.

Many of our members serve on state and regional committees, task forces and modeling crews. All have attended countless meetings and volunteered incalculable hours to produce the basin implementation plan, which was used in the development of the Colorado Water Plan.

#Snowpack news: Yampa headwaters doing just fine so far

Westwide SNOTEL February 2, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL February 2, 2016 via the NRCS.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Steamboat skiers and snowboarders prefer their champagne dry, but the relatively wet snow that buried the slopes over the weekend put a big boost into the snowpack on nearby Rabbit Ears Pass, where the amount of water stored in the standing snow jumped from a healthy 126 percent of median Jan. 30 to 135 percent Monday morning with the snow continuing to fall.

The snowpack on Rabbit Ears now contains 18.9 inches inches of water — and counting — compared to the median 14 inches for the first day of February. After measuring 69 inches Sunday, the snow depth at 9,400 feet on the pass had settled to 67 inches Monday morning.

But it’s a different story north of Steamboat Springs beginning at Buffalo Pass and continuing north to snow pack measuring sites maintained by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on the edges of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.

The Tower site on Buff Pass has significantly more snow than Rabbit Ears, as it always does. However, on a percentage basis, the snowpack measurement of 23 inches is just 84 percent of median at 27.5 inches, according to the NRCS.

The pattern repeats further north at the Lost Dog and Mount Zirkel sites at roughly the same latitude on opposite sides of the Continental Divide. Lost Dog is on the western flanks of the Park Range in Routt County where the snow that melts into the streams ultimately finds its way into the Colorado River.

At the Zirkel site on the eastern, or North Park side of the Divide, the water is bound for the North Platte River and finally the Mississippi River.

The snowpack at Lost Dog is 90 percent of median, and at Zirkel, it is 87 percent of median. The combined Yampa/White river drainages stand at 106 percent median snowpack based on 20 measuring sites. That ranks the basin last among the eight major basins in the state with the San Miguel/Dolores/Animas/San Juan Basin leading the way at 123 percent of median. Lizard Head Pass south of Telluride stands at 162 percent of median snowpack.

On the east side of Rabbit Ears in Buffalo Park at an elevation of 9,240 feet, the snowpack contains 10.5 inches of water — 144 percent of median. But the nearby Columbine measuring site at 9,160 feet is at just 101 percent of median with 14.9 inches of water.

Turning to South Routt, the Crosho measuring site at 9,100 feet at the foot of the Flat Tops southeast of Phippsburg has 9.9 inches of water — 146 percent of median.