Colorado River basin: Anglers are still working on protection for upper basin streams

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Anglers are still concerned with potential streamflow issues at the Colorado River headwaters, in light of the proposed Moffat Collection System and Windy Gap Firming projects, despite the euphoria over the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement announced a week ago. Here’s a report from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

Altogether, the projects have the potential to reduce Colorado River flows to less than 25 percent of their historic native flows. Biologists and anglers have already observed increases in stream temperatures, algae blooms, and declines in fish populations throughout the Colorado River headwaters. Taking more water out of these rivers could be catastrophic if mitigation efforts fall short, according to Trout Unlimited. Both proposals are currently under review by federal and state agencies, with detailed mitigation plans at issue. The Colorado Wildlife Commission will take input on the mitigation plans Friday, May 6 at a public hearing in Salida, and Trout Unlimited, a coldwater fisheries conservation group, plans to ask the commission to make sure there’s an insurance policy in place for the Fraser River and the Upper Colorado.

“We think what we’re asking for is pretty reasonable,” Whiting said. “This is the only chance we’re going get to address some of these impacts. We need to have an insurance policy,” she added. Whiting said the environmental studies for the Moffat and Windy Gap projects dealt with some of the anticipated impacts in a speculative way, and that there’s no way of knowing exactly how the increased diversions — planned during the peak flow season — will play out. If the money currently earmarked toward enhancements is sufficient, great. But if not, there needs to be a pot of money in reserve to do the needed work, she said. Specifically, Trout Unlimited said that significant restoration work and monitoring will be needed to ensure healthy aquatic ecosystems on the Fraser and Upper Colorado rivers. The group estimates that it will cost about $14 million for the needed work, yet only a fraction of that funding is included in the mitigation plans…

Trout Unlimited also wants the Front Range utilities to make a commitment to stop diversions when the water gets too warm or flows drop too low. Removing too much water from the river during runoff or during critical hot summer months raises stream temperatures and eliminates flushing flows that are needed to keep river ecosystems alive. If flushing flows are not occurring or if temperatures rise above state standards, fish can die. Water providers need to make a commitment to stop diversions when stream temperatures approach state standards or if flushing flows are not occurring in accordance with the community-led Grand County Stream Management Plan. These commitments, combined with ongoing monitoring, are what is referred to by the concept of ‘Adaptive Management.’

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

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