Long journey for pikeminnow

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It didn’t take long for endangered Colorado pikeminnows to move upstream past the Price-Stubbs diversion on the Colorado River. Last week one was netted near DeBeque. The tagged fish had been netted in the past near Flaming Gorge dam in the Green River. That’s a pretty remarkable journey, down the Green and back up the Colorado. Administrators of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program have to feel good about what they’re seeing. Here’s a report from Gary Harmon writing for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. From the article:

The dam, built in 1911, has prevented the migration of the Colorado pikeminnow, known to early residents of the Grand Valley as “white salmon” for their travels, from visiting the highest part of their range. The range was reopened in April 2008 with the completion of a $10 million, 900-foot-long, fish passage just upstream from the mouth of De Beque Canyon. The capture of a 26-inch, two-pound adult male on April 22 showed the species, also once called the Colorado squawfish, had negotiated the fish passage and was moving upstream. The capture is significant “because it demonstrates fish have regained access to historic habitat that was blocked for almost a century,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Bob Burdick said. “This Colorado pikeminnow is the first of its kind that we’ve detected in that river reach” since biologists began sampling at the Grand Valley Project Diversion Dam for pikeminnow and the endangered razorback sucker.

The pikeminnow captured in April is “a fairly old fish” that is relatively well known to biologists after it was captured in the Green River near Ouray, Utah, on May 10, 1995. It has swum at least 447 miles during the ensuing years and was recaptured five more times in various sections of the Colorado River. The fish was 7 to 10 years old when it was first tagged, and biologists believe individuals live to about 40 years of age. Biologists also are celebrating the return of the razorback sucker to a section of the Yampa River, where the species hasn’t been seen for 30 years. Researchers captured a 17-inch, 1.7-pound, 7-year-old adult razorback sucker in the Yampa near Lily Park, about seven miles upstream of Dinosaur National Monument. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists stocked the hatchery-raised fish as a 2-year-old juvenile in the Green River near Green River, Utah, in 2004. During the next five years, it traveled 280 miles upstream and grew six inches.

More coverage from the Associated Press via the Grand Junction Free Press.

Update: More coverage from the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

In fact, the [Colorado pikeminnow] – along with razorback suckers, humpback chubs and bonytail chubs – were such good eating that they hardly exist today. They were fished nearly to extinction. Why is this important to the Arkansas River basin? Because if they don’t thrive, nobody gets to bring over water from the Colorado River basin. On average, about 130,000 acre-feet is moved from the Colorado River to the Arkansas River each year through the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, Twin Lakes, Homestake and smaller diversions. That doesn’t happen unless water is made available for the four endangered species on the other side of the Continental Divide. “It’s water that’s beneficial for the fish,” Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, told the district board last week. “Anyone who diverts gets to play the game.” That includes water users on the Western Slope as well as the Front Range, in both the Arkansas and South Platte river basins. The load is shared equally by the diverters and annually puts back 30,000-90,000 acre feet of water – or the amount used by a city the size of Pueblo on the low end or Colorado Springs on the high end – into the Colorado River for the fish.

From 2000-08, 500,000 acre-feet of water was delivered to the critical 15-mile stretch of the Colorado River east of Grand Junction, according to Tom Pitts, who coordinates the fish recovery program. The deliveries were made through cooperative efforts of the Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado River Conservation District and Denver Water, with assistance from the Grand Valley Project. Right now, the Western Slope and Front Range are in agreement on a program that will provide a portion of that water, 10,825 acre-feet to be exact, to supplement flows from July to October. The stress to the fish in that reach of river is most commonly felt during late summer as diversions increase and rains taper off. Under an agreement reached 20 years ago, the water has been provided from various sources with costs shared by all diverters. On the Front Range, that includes the Northern and Southeastern conservancy districts, Denver Water, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Twin Lakes and the Pueblo Board of Water Works. Ruedi Reservoir, a compensatory storage vessel of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, has been the sole source of the 10,825 acre-feet of water since 2003, using water that has, so far, found no buyers on the Western Slope. Under a new agreement that water users hope will be in place by the end of the year, only half of the water will come from Ruedi in the Roaring Fork watershed, while the other half will come from Lake Granby, a reservoir located in the Eagle River watershed. The option was chosen from among several in the latest study.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

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