Reservoirs letting water out to help endangered fish in the Grand Valley
For only the fourth time in 10 years, springtime flows on the upper Colorado River have allowed for the release of excess water from West Slope reservoirs that will help endangered fish habitat in the Grand Valley west of Grand Junction.According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the releases began May 19 and were expected to continue for about a week.Dillon, Green Mountain, Williams Fork, Wolford Mountain and Ruedi reservoirs have contributed to the enhanced release. It will allow excess runoff to pass down the river rather than being stored for future use.Behind the release is the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, which seeks to improve habitat and reproduction for four fish native to the Colorado River: the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker and bonytail. All had thriving populations at one time, but their numbers have been declining because of competition with non-native fish species introduced to the river.”This year because of the relatively healthy snowpack, the stakeholders (in the program) determined excess water could be dumped into the river to enhance peak flows, and the reservoirs would still fill,” said Colorado River Water Conservation District spokesman Jim Pokrandt. Releases are coordinated and agreed to by members of the Coordinated Reservoir Operations Team, which includes the river district, Denver Water, the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Colorado Division of Wildlife and other government agencies.This higher-than-normal flow down the Colorado and its tributaries will scour the watercourses, making the rivers “more hospitable for propagation of (the endangered fish),” Pokrandt said.Of particular interest to the recovery program is what is known locally as the “15-mile reach” of the Colorado from the rollerdam below Cameo to the Colorado’s confluence with the Gunnison River, encompassing the Grand Valley, Pokrandt said. It is in this area where fruit growers and farmers use much of the river to irrigate, and the habitat of the endangered fish has been degraded.The enhanced runoff “mimics what historically used to happen on the river” before man built dams and drew out water for irrigation, he said.In the Roaring Fork Valley, the enhanced release from Ruedi Reservoir has swelled the Fryingpan River, but that’s not unusual, according to Jeff Dysart, co-owner of Alpine Angling in Carbondale and Roaring Fork Anglers in Glenwood Springs.”If they were not releasing we could be fishing now,” Dysart said. But he applauds the enhanced release. “It’s healthy. It not only flushes out the river in Grand Junction, but it’s going to flush the Fryingpan. We haven’t had that in 10 years.”He also pointed out that the last few years have had abnormally low snowpack and therefore lower volume of runoff in the spring, which benefited his business because the fishing got started earlier than in a normal year. But he said his business doesn’t really kick in until runoff is over and the river clears in mid-June.This year, Dysart said, “the Fryingpan snowpack was over 100 percent. They’ve got a full reservoir (Ruedi) up there, and they don’t want it to spill over.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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