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Ruedi draft EA findings questioned

Steve Custenborder

Dear Editor,

I am a 25-year resident of the Fryingpan Valley who has fished the river week in and week out for that entire time.

In the draft environmental assessment for Ruedi Reservoir operations, it is stated that high flows that have been implemented for the past 13 years, when enough water was available, have had no effect on the sport fishery and a beneficial effect on recreation in the river. I have to disagree with these conclusions.

With regard to the effects on the sport fishery, I and the anglers I know agree that the number of fish in the sections of river open to the public has steadily dropped during the last decade. I don’t believe this applies to the half mile below the dam or to the considerable sections of river posted. Fish migrate to private water where they don’t get much fishing pressure.

I am sure the DOW is attempting to do a good job of surveying fish populations, but I believe there is a built-in bias due to the fact that they check only certain spots year after year. Places where it is easy to do their shocking surveys tend to be deeper runs and pools where the fish tend to stack up.

One spot, just above Taylor Creek, used to be open to the public 10 years ago, but has been posted in recent years.

If the DOW doesn’t somehow control their study to allow for this change, it seems to me that this would lead to a significant error if these results were generalized to sections that are open to the public. If they are going to make conclusions about the effects on recreation in the river, they need to find a way to survey areas the average Joe is able to access.

Although fish numbers are still high just below the dam and in the closed or private water, it seems that fewer fish are moving out into the public water to feed on the massive hatches of small mayflies that used to occur in the spring and the fall, probably because the hatches do not occur like they used to. Although I am not a biologist, it seems to me that the depletion of this once-abundant food source, when the fish are recovering from winter or stocking up on calories for the coming winter, would lead to fewer fish.

The other significant impact of the high flows is on dry-fly fishing. The river has the potential to be one of the best dry-fly streams in the country. But when the flows are up, there are fewer and fewer places that the fish can feed on the surface for the small bugs. I would call this a definite negative impact on the recreational fishery, as there are really a lot of people who would like to fish the river with dry flies in the spring and fall when these hatches occur.

The report states, “CDOW indicated flows greater than 250 cfs may have the benefit of reducing pressure/impacts to fish due to the reduced number of fishermen wading the river and catching fish.” Less pressure certainly elevates fish populations, but is allowing fewer fishermen on the river beneficial? And do you think having too much water in the river helps guides and outfitters who rely on getting clients to the fish?

It will become apparent what has happened to the ecology of the lower river below Seven Castles as time progresses. The Bureau of Reclamation did not save anything back for a low water year, even though the West has been in a drought. The river down there froze almost solid during the long cold spells with little snow cover, far more ice than I have ever seen in 25 years. When the river freezes like that, the biologists say it only leaves a very narrow channel for the fish to survive in and when the huge amounts of anchor ice break loose it pulls many of the insects off with it.

I firmly believe the draft environmental assessment, which will determine the future of the river for the next 10 years, contains a certain amount of inaccurate logic and false conclusions that tend to support the agenda of the Bureau of Reclamation and its plans for selling water from Ruedi Reservoir.

I believe that we are at a turning point with respect to whether this river will ever be managed for the potential to become a truly world-class fishery as it once was before the high flows were implemented.

I urge people to take a couple of minutes to fax comments to 970-663-3212, or write to the Bureau of Reclamation, Attn. Will Tully, Eastern Colorado Office, 11056 County Road 18E, Loveland, CO. Or you can e-mail Kara Lamb at klamb@gp.usbr. gov, or call her at 970-962-4326. You must include your name and address as anonymous comments will not be included in the final EA. The deadline for comments is April 29.

Steve Custenborder

Fryingpan River


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