#Drought news: Low-water stressing trout in Conejos River; CPW asks anglers to limit fishing activity

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Joe Lewandowski):

Due to extremely low flows and concerns about warm water temperatures, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is asking anglers to self-regulate their fishing activities. Effective immediately, CPW is placing a voluntary fishing closure on the Conejos River from noon through the remainder of the day.

This voluntary closure is in place for the section of the Conejos River from Platoro Reservoir down to Broyles Bridge. The voluntary closure will remain in effect until further notice, with a possibility
of an emergency closure to all fishing if conditions worsen. The river is located in the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado.

“The Conejos River is one of Colorado’s most renowned trout streams,” said John Alves, senior aquatic biologist. “We know that anglers care deeply about this fishery and we need their help to conserve this resource.”

Because of the ongoing drought, the river is flowing far less than the historic flows. Normally at this time of year flows from the outlet at Platoro Reservoir are usually about 60 cubic feet per second. For the last few weeks flows have averaged about 10 cfs, only 19 percent of the historic average. Snowfall last winter of less than 50 percent of average in the Rio Grande basin is the primary reason the river is running so low.

Water temperature is also a concern. At times temperature of the river has risen to 70 degrees which is unhealthy for trout. The temperature of the river is highest from noon throughout the rest of the day. Water cools overnight, so fishing during the morning hours will help to minimize impacts to trout.

Many trout anglers practice catch and release. But in these conditions it is extremely stressful on fish when they are hooked and handled. They might look OK when they swim off quickly after they’re released, but they use a lot of energy when caught and recovery is difficult in low, warm water. With less water there is less habitat available to the fish and warming temperatures means there’s less oxygen available in the water. That can lead to increased trout mortality.

Brown trout, the predominant species in the river, spawn in the fall; so the current river conditions could impact spawning activities.

“This is the first time we’ve made this kind of voluntary-action request on the Conejos. It’s not something we like to do, but it’s the right thing to do and we hope anglers will join us in this conservation effort,” Alves said.

Low flows in the Arkansas River are also worrying. Here’s a report from Bill Folsom writing for KOAA.com. Here’s an excerpt:

Over the summer there has been a series of agreements to release water from reservoirs to maintain the river at a higher level for recreational activities like rafting and fishing. The agreements ended August 15th. “We knew that the river was going to drop,” said Arkansas River Headwaters Manager, Rob White. In days since the river has dropped so low in many spots the river bottom is showing.

Rafting companies are now strategic about what stretches they float. Aquatic Biologist with Colorado Parks and wildlife are monitoring trout in the river. “Kind of keep a watch on those temperatures. If temperatures get to 75, 76 degrees than you kind of need to be concerned,” said White. Currently tracking is happening at three locations. Higher up the river near Buena Vista the water is registering in the mid 60-degree range. At the lowest elevation near Canon City it hits 70 degrees, but still below numbers causing concern.

Days are getting shorter and nights cooler. It is countering the heat of the day.

Aquatic biologists say Brown Trout in the Arkansas spawn toward the end of September. It can actually benefit from the low flow.

From The Craig Daily Press (David Tan):

Additionally, [Elkhead] reservoir operations were modified to release more water to the Maybell gauge to supplement the flow for fish recovery efforts…

Yampa River levels have been critically low, Hinkemeyer said, though he added he believes there were problems with the Deer Lodge meter not measuring correctly.

The city maintains a 4,413 acre-foot pool at the reservoir, Hinkemeyer said, adding that he sees potential for the pool to be an asset for the city and possibly an income generator.

Mayor John Ponikvar said once new city manager Peter Brixius begins work in September, he might want to to revisit the city’s water situation and decide what direction should be taken.

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