Drought may hatch troubles for fish farms
If dry conditions in the area continue, the Glenwood Fish Hatchery on Mitchell Creek will be looking for a home for its thousands of trout and salmon.
“The low water has not affected us much this year,” said Rich Kolecki, who manages the Glenwood Springs and Crystal River fish hatcheries for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. But if the dry spell continues, it could mean trouble for the operation as early as this fall.
“If we’re running low flows at the hatchery now, then come winter we’ll be even lower,” said Kolecki. If the stream dries up, all the fish will have to be moved.
Kolecki explained that the hatchery’s system has to maintain a proper balance between pounds of fish and cubic feet of water. Without ample water flow, ammonia, nitrates and “suspended solids” begin to build up.
Kolecki compared it to crowding several people in a small room with little ventilation and having a few people smoke cigarettes.
“The water quality starts going down and the fish start getting sick,” he said.
The hatchery is operating at a relatively normal pace, said Kolecki, but because of low water, it is taking fish from the hatchery to stock lakes and streams throughout the state a few weeks early. The priority is to keep the brood stock, the fish that supply eggs, healthy, he said.
“Whatever water we have will go toward the brood stock,” he said.
The hatchery has two critical strains of brood stock: the native Colorado cutthroat and a captive wild strain of rainbow.
Some of the cutthroat are 6 years old. They can’t be used for eggs until they are 3 years old.
Much of the rainbow stock is at least 3 years old. “If we lose them, we would have to start all over again and it would be three years before we could even be taking any eggs,” he said.
In order to keep existing egg supplies healthy, the hatchery will transport a half million cutthroat eggs to a newly constructed isolation chamber at the Rifle Falls Hatchery.
For now, operations are normal at the hatchery. Water flows from one holding tank to the next before continuing down Mitchell Creek. Self-guided tours of the hatchery are still open to the public seven days a week.
Eric Gardey of Glenwood Springs brought visiting family members to the hatchery to see the fish on Friday.
“I’m taking pictures of the trout to show friends,” said Gardey’s brother-in-law, Craig Parks, of Bay City, Mich. Parks and his wife, Kirsten, and sons Nicholas, 4, and Cole, 14 months, spent several minutes watching the fish and feeding them a special food from the hatchery.
Away from the hot concrete and traffic of downtown, peaceful and isolated Mitchell Creek felt like an oasis.
Hopefully, said Kolecki, the rains will come.
“We’re affected just like all the other people in the state who are dependent on water,” he said. “I doubt if Mitchell Creek will dry up, but it might get awful low.”
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