Jack Schmidt, Charles Yackulic, and Eric Kuhn have published an invaluable new overview of how we got into this mess on the Colorado River, and some of the things we need to think about to get out of it.
Click the link to read the article on the Taos News website (Idone Rhodes). Here’s an excerpt:
More than three decades of ongoing work to restore Rio Grande sucker, Rio Grande chub and, most importantly, Rio Grande cutthroat trout — New Mexico’s state fish — to their native environment culminated with a celebration last weekend (July 1) in the Valle Vidal Unit of Carson National Forest, hosted by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the U.S. Forest Service.
Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout are the southernmost subspecies of cutthroat trout and are native to Southern Colorado and New Mexico. Once abundant in these waters, the subspecies’ population has been severely diminished by a variety of factors, including competition or breeding with non-native species, such as brook, brown and rainbow trout, as well as habitat loss. Rio Grande cutthroat and Rainbow spawn at the same time and can interbreed to produce hybrid “cutbow” trout.
The project restored Rio Grande cutthroat trout to 120 miles of their historic range in the Rio Costilla watershed, as well as 16 lakes and one reservoir. Teams worked tirelessly to remove native fish from waterways before treating the waters with the piscicide rotenone to kill off non-native fish.
Since 2002, the Seven Springs Fish Hatchery in Jemez Springs has raised over 72,000 Rio Grande cutthroat trout using pure trout taken from streams and other water sources. These fish are then used to restore wild populations and provide angling opportunities. It’s an ongoing collaboration between the Forest Service, which manages the land, and Game and Fish, which manages the subspecies, explained Carson National Forest Biologist Alyssa Radcliff. Some of the restored waterways are also on private land. As waterways were restored, fish barriers were built to keep non-native species from moving back up stream. In 2016, a permanent barrier was constructed in the Valle Vidal Unit to maintain the restored area.
The initial goal of the project was much smaller, with a focus on specific segments of waterways upstream. Eventually, however,“We’re like, ‘Why don’t we just do the whole basin?” Francisco Cortez, the program manager for fisheries on the Carson, said. Cortez has been working on the project since the early 1990s and watched it grow from habitat and population surveys to the large-scale restoration operation it is today.
The start of an El Niño period was acknowledged in June by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the World Meteorological Organization. As it forms in July and August we’ll have a better sense of the impacts to the Valley lands and the Rio Grande Basin. Some global experts are beginning to suggest a moderate to strong El Niño increases the chance that 2024 will be the warmest on record. We’re paying attention to the condition of the Rio Grande Basin and in particular the change in the unconfined aquifer storage after what’s been a strong runoff from the winter snowpacks. It’s a critical indicator on the overall health of the Rio Grande Basin and one that ultimately determines the state of agriculture in the SLV.
It is irrigators in Subdistrict 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District who shoulder the greatest responsibility for recovering the ailing unconfined aquifer. To that end, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District Board of Managers will hold a public hearing this week on the Subdistrict 1 Fourth Amended Plan of Water Management to manage groundwater pumping in the unconfined aquifer area. It’s been a year or so in development with lots of difficult conversations on how to reduce groundwater irrigation in the Valley’s most lucrative agricultural subdistrict. The state Division of Water Resources has signed off on the plan and now comes the final public comments. The idea of a lawsuit challenging the Fourth Amended Plan of Water Management also hangs out there. The meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Friday, July 14.