Electrofishing near Grand Junction

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The temperature is hovering right around 90 degrees the day Dale Ryden and I float down the Colorado River near Grand Junction, Colorado. The water looks so inviting, a cool reprieve from the heat, but if either of us jumped in we’d be electrocuted.

“It can actually probably be lethal to people if you get in there,” Ryden, a fish biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says.

Next to us, Ryden’s coworkers cruise by in grey and blue inflatable rafts, outfitted with a metal sphere — the size of a disco ball — hanging off the front. A generator on the back of the raft sends an electric charge through the ball into the turbid water. Ryden compares the color to a glass of Ovaltine. What lies beneath the surface of the sediment-laden water is a mystery.

“To get at the animal we’re studying we have to actually find ways to capture them and take them out of their natural habitat,” Ryden says. “And so one of the ways we can do that is electrofishing.”

The fish that venture near the electrified rafts are momentarily stunned and pulled out of the water with nets. Today’s mission is to remove nonnative fish — like small mouth bass — which feed on the young progeny of the four endangered species found in the river. The bass will be collected, measured, weighed, stored in bags and eventually discarded in a local landfill.

Meanwhile, any of the four endangered species — bonytail, razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow, and humpback chub — we encounter will be treated with care and released back into the river.

Ryden has a tough, and some would say impossible, job. Everyday he tries to find ways to help the fish that evolved to live only in this river system — one of the most engineered ecosystems in the world — survive.

Ancient species

Fish in the Colorado River are a product of harsh conditions.

Over millions of years the rushing, sediment-laden water sculpted their bodies with characteristic ridges and bumps, making them well-equipped to handle its highs and lows. But human interference in the rivers they call home has caused a few to nearly go extinct.

“They’ve survived three explosions of the Yellowstone supervolcano. They were here when mastodons and woolly mammoths went extinct,” Ryden says.

He ticks off the historical events that upended human civilization while the fish just kept swimming. The razorbacks and humpback chubs didn’t bat an eye while Roman and Egyptian empires collapsed, while America was colonized, while soldiers fought the Civil War.

It was the era of big dam building that fundamentally altered the fish species’ home. Within the last 100 years or so, Ryden says, dams and other water diversions have made life close to impossible for these fish. Then people started adding in toxic chemicals, pharmaceuticals and a suite of invasive fish.

“Call it the death by a thousand cuts,” Ryden says. “So they could survive any one of those problems probably fairly well. When you start throwing them all on top of them, then it becomes a lot more problematic.”

#Drought news: “We need a winter, we need a wet winter” — Larry Bailey

West Drought Monitor October 2, 2018.

From KOAA.com (Bill Folsom):

In Huerfano County, Colorado. Rivers, streams and reservoirs are also low. Some living in rural areas fear it will not be long before they have no near-by access to water.

There are homes in the area without hook-ups to city water infrastructure. The solution is tanks on trucks and trailers. People pull up, punch in a code and fill tanks with hundreds of gallons of water. In the town of Walsenburg city leaders are cracking down on who can get water from the town water haul station. Kancilia is not happy with fees raised last year and the tighter restrictions. “They give the marijuana people all the water they want, but people that have houses and kids and going to school they want to cut them off if they’re more than ten miles out of town.” City leaders say they are abiding by rules dictated by the city’s water rights. Water is for people within the town’s zip code or who live within10 miles of the city’s boundary.

Enforcement of water rules is likely part of growing drought concerns. Reservoirs supplying water to Walsenburg are low. It is the same for reservoirs holding water for the town of La Veta. The mayor of La Veta, Doug Brgoch is also the Colorado Water Commissioner for the region. “What we’ve got to really realize here is that this area of Colorado hasn’t received a significant amount of moisture, wide spread moisture since May of last year, 2017.” It is pushing 18 months of little to no snow or rain.

Brgoch has 30 years experience in this region and says there’s no doubt it is why wells are going dry. “It’s a bad, bad situation.” Many make the mistake of thinking their well water comes from an aquifer. He says there is not an aquifer for most of Huerfano County. Instead underground water is from rivulets. They are the underground equivalent of a stream.

They are hard to tap and so narrow they are rarely shared with other wells. “It’s water that’s generated in mountains, gathered at higher elevations that are seeping into the ground, traveling rather rapidly through the ground,” said Brgoch.

The Cucharas River through La Veta is running at just two cubic feet a second. More than low, it is nearly dry. Reservoir storage is best at two to three years of available water. In La Veta it is at one year. “Those numbers are probably at an all time low. They’re as low as I’ve ever seen them in the last 30 years,” said Brgoch.

The town of La Veta is on restrictions. Walsenburg is getting tougher about rules. Town leaders have an obligation within their borders to make sure there is water for homes, business, fire protection and sewer systems. “There’s going to come a time when they’re just going to have to say to all external customers that we can no longer service you until times get better,” said Brgoch. It means people in unincorporated parts of the county will have few options for water.

It is a tough situation. Local resident, Larry Bailey knows what caused the problem and he knows the solution. He closely monitors snow and rainfall. “I got 22 inches of snow. I keep track of it and usually we’ll get 100 inches. I’m hoping we’ll get 150 inches.” Brgoch agrees, “We need a winter, we need a wet winter.” It is a resolution no one can predict or control.