Drought news: Low streamflow below Pueblo Dam raises concern for the fishery #CODrought

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Releases of native water from the dam dropped to minimal levels earlier this week as drought continues to strain water resources on the Arkansas River. Flows in the river have stayed above the level needed to keep fish alive because of releases from storage accounts, however. “We’re seeing a lot of fry (young fish) in the river,” said Dan Prenzlow, regional manager for wildlife with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We’re monitoring the temperature below the dam.”

While the state has some water in storage at Lake Pueblo, much of it has been exchanged upstream to assist in keeping recreation flows at acceptable levels between Twin Lakes and Lake Pueblo. If conditions worsen, there may be voluntary or even mandatory restrictions on fishing, Prenzlow said…

Summer river levels through Pueblo have not reached the low points seen in 2002, but are at the lowest point since then…

While native flows in the river were cut out by diversions to Bessemer Ditch, the state fish hatchery and the Pueblo Board of Water Works, there was water in the river because some ditch companies were releasing water from storage accounts.

Meawhile, the Town of Gardner has imposed “indoor uses” only water restrictions as of July 1. Here’s a report from Carol Dunn writing for the Huerfano World Journal. From the article:

The letter, from the County Commissioners and signed by John Galusha, informed water customers that they are on “indoor use only” water restrictions as of July 1, 2012. And indoor use means just that: no watering of gardens, lawns or livestock is permitted using water delivered through Gardner Water & Sanitation Department meters. The letter states that if water users violate the restriction, their meter will be disconnected. The letter was prompted by a complicated water situation in Gardner. The town does not have an adjudicated source of municipal water, so it uses wells for this purpose. Unfortunately, those wells are junior water rights and, by the letter of Colorado Water Law, are not a legal use of water.

Gardner area residents breathed a collective sigh of relief in 2009 when a Rule 14 well augmentation plan was filed by the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District Water Activity Enterprise. The plan brought the out-of-priority use of the wells into compliance using substitute water leased on the Martin Ditch. However, there are a few snags in the plan. The plan is temporary until a permanent source of water can be purchased and an official water court case filed. The current augmentation water is only leased. The enterprise does not own a reservoir to store the water when it is in priority. As Dawson puts it, “We would not have this problem if we had augmentation water in storage that we could release.”

Further, the water rights being leased, #4 and #11, are not high enough in priority this year to withstand the short water conditions caused by the drought. When the water rights go out of priority, then the plan is not in compliance, and the wells used to provide water to Gardner are no longer legal. The Colorado State Water Engineer’s Office could shut down the wells at that point, but it has chosen not to do so at this time, allowing restricted use.

From the Tri-Lakes Tribune (Lisa Collacott):

Residents of Palmer Lake and anyone who has driven by the lake knows there is not much left of the lake. The reason for the lack of water in the lake is plain and simple: drought. “We are having the hottest summer on record since 1895, according to CNN,” said Michael Maddox, water trustee for the town of Palmer Lake.

CNN has reported that two-thirds of the United States is experiencing the worst drought in a half-century. Approximately 61 percent of land in the lower 48 states has been experiencing drought conditions, with 1,300 counties across the nation being declared drought disaster zones. Colorado State University climatologists have reported that 98 percent of the state is facing drought conditions.

From Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is announcing a public fish salvage at Barr Lake State Park beginning Monday, July 23. Due to high irrigation demand created by severe drought, the water level in Barr Lake will be drained to a conservation level of 442 acre feet to meet the needs of its intended agricultural use.

The public salvage is being announced in order to optimize use of the fishery resource as outlined:

–A valid Colorado fishing license is required in accordance with state statutes.

–A state parks pass is required ($7 Daily Pass or $70 Annual Pass).

–All legal fishing methods are allowed.

–Bag, possession and size limits are suspended for Barr Lake only until this emergency public salvage is lifted.

The end date of the public salvage effort will be announced by Park Manager Michelle Seubert or Area Wildlife Manager Liza Hunholz.

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