Reclamation: Ruedi releases for Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program a top priority

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From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

Representatives of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said they will weigh local concerns about fishing conditions when determining water releases from Ruedi Reservoir, but they made it clear an endangered fish recovery program is their priority. Tom Chart, director of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, said water releases from Ruedi Reservoir are critical to improving habitat for the fish in a stretch of the Colorado Riv er near Palisade. Right now, using a variety of water sources, targeted flows in that stretch are achieved only 30 percent of the time. Chart said he was reluctant to “throw any tool out of the toolbox.”

Chart and other federal officials visited Basalt after the town government, local guide shops and the Ruedi Water and Power Authority criticized their handling of water releases last summer. “They were unusual to say the least,” said Mark Fuller, director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, a consortium of local governments that operates a hydroelectric project and monitors Fryingpan Valley water issues…

The Fryingpan conundrum is a classic case of the Endangered Species Act affecting human activity. In this case, the Fish & Wildlife Service has a con tract for water from Ruedi Reservoir and can “call” that water when it is needed for the endangered fish. Chart said Ruedi water is specifically needed to help two species, the pikeminnow and razorback sucker. Their habitat near Palisade has been altered by water diversions and fluctuations in flows of the Colorado River. Jana Mohrman of the Fish & Wildlife Service said releases from Ruedi and other Colorado reservoirs are deter­mined based on a variety of factors, including the snowpack and reservoir storage levels. When the snow pack is high, like last winter, plans are made for high levels of releases. Last year’s planning was thrown askew when the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon reduced its call on water in the Colorado Riv er for a dam inspection during August. That required more water from Ruedi and other sources. In addition, August was hot and dry so there was little contribution to river flows from precipitation.

State Rep. Kathleen Curry, whose district includes Basalt, said the Fish & Wildlife Service should have altered its plan when conditions dried in August, requiring less water from Ruedi. “I know you’re shooting for recovery, but other people paid a price on the way,” Curry said. She suggested that the local entities, such as Basalt, send a written request with specific goals regarding Ruedi water releases to the reclamation bureau and Fish & Wildlife Service. Their formal responses would establish a starting point for future negotiations, she said.

More Fryingpan River coverage here and here.

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