The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the Eagle River Watershed Council

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Cutthroat Trout Habitat Restoration Project

Thanks to the very hard work of our volunteers, the U.S. Forest Service, and National Forest Foundation, the Watershed Council was able to complete our cutthroat trout habitat restoration project on Shrine Pass before the snow began to stick. Over 3 miles of a closed Forest Service road, which was contributing sediment to Turkey and Lime Creeks and degrading spawning habitat, was scarified (making it impassible to 4-wheel drive traffic) and reseeded with a native seed mix and erosion control fabric to return it to its natural state.

In total, three miles of stream bank, 10 acres of watershed, and 20 acres of wildlife habitat were enhanced. These efforts will establish a healthy riparian buffer which will improve instream water quality by filtering sediment and pollutants that would otherwise enter Turkey and Lime Creeks.

@COParksWildlife: Grunt work of biologists includes assessing habitat, documenting what is there, and what is not, to guide wildlife management into the future

A team of Colorado Parks and Wildlife and U.S. Forest Service biologists, staff and volunteers fanned out along rugged Newlin Creek and four tributaries on Oct. 25, 2017, to search of cutthroat trout rescued from the South Prong of Hayden Creek during a 2016 wildlife. Photo credit Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Conservation work often involves grueling slogs through dense forests

WETMORE, Colo. – On a recent cold October morning, a team of 20 aquatic biologists, other staff and volunteers from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service fanned out across five drainages in the rugged foothills of the Wet Mountains.

They split into six teams and bushwhacked up and down six miles, give or take, of the remote upper reaches of Newlin Creek and its four tributaries, following the creek beds as they snaked along treacherous cliffs, through jumbles of huge boulders and under fallen trees between Locke and Stull mountains.

The teams hiked for hours as the sun turned the day into short-sleeve weather, taxing some of the crew clad in rubber wading outfits and lugging 30-pound Electrofisher units on their backs.

The Electrofishers were needed to test the waters of each tributary for the presence of fish, especially any of the genetically unique cutthroat trout that had been rescued from the massive 2016 Hayden Creek wildfire.

At the time, CPW biologists ducked behind fire lines and rescued 194 of these fish from the South Prong of Hayden Creek. Of the total, 158 were taken to a CPW hatchery near Gunnison and placed in isolation. The other 36 were released in Newlin Creek in hopes they would reproduce naturally.

Hundreds more of these genetically unique fish were left behind in Hayden Creek with hopes they would survive. But monsoon rains later inundated the stream with debris, ash and sediment, leaving little hope the remaining cutthroats survived.

That knowledge gave special importance to the Newlin fish survey. Anywhere that trickles of water pooled enough to offer fish habitat, the CPW/USFS teams stopped and utilized the electrofishing units in hopes of catching a few of the 36 fish that were released.

They repeated the process dozens of times as they thrashed through the brush, scrambled over rocks, under felled trees and past caves and piles of bones from predator kills. At the end of a 10-hour marathon fish survey, the results were less than what they had hoped for: biologists were unsuccessful in locating any of the introduced fish.

But Josh Nehring, senior aquatic biologist for CPW’s Southeast Region, said the day was far from a wasted effort. In fact, it was a pretty typical day in the life of CPW biologists who are on the front lines of the agency’s efforts to perpetuate the wildlife of Colorado.

“We came to see if we can find any of the Hayden cutthroat,” Nehring said. “We wanted to see how they were doing. And we wanted to assess Newlin Creek for potentially re-introducing more of those fish here in the future.”

As with greenback cutthroat trout found in Bear Creek in Colorado Springs, CPW’s goal is to reintroduce native fish their historic landscape. And if Hayden Creek is unable to support fish in coming years as it recovers from the wildfire, CPW biologists need to find other creeks where they might thrive.

“Newlin Creek is a fairly small stream that we’ve had cutthroat in for a number of years,” Nehring said. “We presumed the upper portions of Newlin were fishless, but we needed to know definitively and assess the quality of the habitat. That’s why today’s fish survey was important. Now we know exactly what we’ve got in Newlin, if we decide we want to put more fish in it someday.”

Similar surveys on creeks, lakes and rivers go on year-round by CPW biologists and interns as they take study the state’s fish, assess the health of the various populations and decide whether to stock the waters. It’s the rarely seen conservation grunt work that pays off in gold-medal streams and lakes and attracts anglers from around the world to Colorado.

And it doesn’t matter if a grueling day of slogging through dense forests doesn’t result in big numbers of fish. Assessing the habitat and documenting what is there, and what is not, will help guide wildlife management and conservation into the future.

“Our mission is to perpetuate the wildlife of the state and conserve the native populations,” Nehring said. “That’s what days like today are about. These native fish were here before man was. If man hadn’t introduced rainbow trout, brown trout or brook trout – all these non-native fish – and altered their habitat, all these streams would be full of cutthroat.

“Unfortunately, they all out-compete the native cutthroat and some of them can mate with them diluting the uniqueness of these fish. I think it’s our duty to protect the cutthroat and make sure they are around for future generations.”

In coming months, Nehring and his team will assess other streams – hiking miles in the heat and cold – to search for new homes for the Hayden Creek cutthroat so they can get out of the hatchery and back in the wild where they belong.

Watch the fish survey work:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SjhrQpwib4&feature=youtu.be

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

#Colorado Pike minnow and #ColoradoRiver health #COriver

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Once dismissed as a “trash fish,” the Colorado pikeminnow has come to be regarded by Western Slope water officials as a powerful ally, one they hope retains its usefulness even when the magic of an endangered-species listing is gone.

And the listing could be gone relatively soon, once officials figure out how to deal with an infestation of walleye, an invasive predator that makes mincemeat out of pikeminnow juveniles.

The pikeminnow, along with the other three endangered fish species of the upper Colorado River, has been useful to western Colorado in that federal and state officials have worked diligently under a 30-year-old recovery program to ensure that there is enough water in the river to keep the fish alive.

“We’ve got the benefit of that,” said Mark Harris, general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, one of the last diverters of water as the Colorado approaches Utah through the 15-mile reach of the Grand Valley, a critical pikeminnow spawning ground…

If the pikeminnow, however, is removed from the list of endangered species — and it was on the first list drawn up half a century ago — that means the recovery program could also go. It is set to expire in 2023.

During its three decades, the program has been used to keep water in the river while accommodating more than 2,000 diversions from the main stem of the river and its tributaries, including 1,225 in Colorado alone, all with no lawsuits.

Should the fish be delisted and the recovery program go away, the approach it inspired should remain, said Patrick McCarthy, deputy director of the Colorado River program for The Nature Conservancy.

When the fish is taken off the endangered list, “We just declare victory and keep working,” McCarthy said.

What victory looks like, though, isn’t clear, said Harry Crockett, who represents Colorado Parks and Wildlife on the recovery project’s biology committee.

“What happens after delisting is a really good question and one the recovery program is wrestling with right now,” Crockett said. “Who does all these things after the fish are no longer listed and there’s no longer a recovery program?”

Not the least of those questions concerns money. The recovery program has cost $380 million since it was established in 1989, the bulk of the costs being picked up by sales of hydroelectricity generated from dams along the Colorado system ($96 million,) the Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal contributions ($189 million,) Colorado, $24 million and a variety of other sources.

The key issue, though, is species recovery, Crockett said.

“It’s important to us to recover the fish,” he said. “We are not resigned to having these fish on the list.”

The Colorado water plan wasn’t predicated on the continued endangered status of four of the river’s fish species, said James Eklund, who headed the Colorado Water Conservation Board during the plan’s drafting.

“I’d hope the plan would still be relevant” should the fish recover, Eklund said. “The goal of any listed species should be delisting after having been recovered, I would think.”

Whether endangered fish are an ally of Western Slope water interests ought not be a question, said Greg Walcher, a Grand Valley fruit grower and former chief of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

“There is no scenario under which having species in danger of extinction is better than having fully recovered healthy populations,” Walcher said in an email. “There will always be plenty of reasons to oppose further Front Range water diversions, and to ensure Colorado’s water entitlement is not threatened by downstream states, federal regulations, or transmountain diversions. But water issues should be decided based on Colorado and interstate water law, not the distraction of federal species regulation.”

Report: Water and Birds in the Arid West: Habitats in Decline — National Audobon Society

Here’s the executive summary. From the website:

Water is the most precious resource in the West—for people, birds, and other wildlife. Riparian habitats like the forests and wetlands that line the Colorado River support some of the most abundant and diverse bird communities in the arid West, serving as home to some 400 species. The Colorado River also provides drinking water for more than 36 million people, irrigates 5.5 million acres of farms and ranches, and supports 16 million jobs throughout seven states, with a combined annual economic impact of $1.4 trillion.

But dams, diversions, drought, and water demand along the Colorado River have devastated cottonwood-willow forests and other native riparian habitat that support more than 40 percent of bird species in America’s Southwest. Saline lakes—the landlocked saltwater lakes fringed with wetlands that dot the Intermountain West—are beacons for millions of birds crossing an otherwise arid landscape. But as water recedes and exposes toxic dust, not only is habitat lost, but surrounding communities are at higher risk for asthma and other health issues.

In short, precipitous declines in Western water quantity and quality are exacting a high toll on the health, prosperity, and quality of life for rural and urban communities, and putting birds and wildlife at jeopardy.

Water and Birds in the Arid West: Habitats in Declined represents the first comprehensive assessment of the complex and vital relationships that exist among birds, water, and climate change in the region. Our research focused on two of the most imperiled and irreplaceable Western ecosystems: 1) the Colorado River Basin; and 2) the West’s network of saline lakes—including the Great Salt Lake and Salton Sea as well as other smaller but vitally important lakes. To read the full report, click here. Have questions? Read the FAQ. Want to get up-to-date news on water issues in West? Join the Western Rivers Action Network.

American Avocets in the Salton Sea. Photo: David Tipling/NPL/Minden Pictures. Screen shot American Audobon Society western water website, October 4, 2017.

Here’s a report from Ian Evans writing for Water Deeply. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

David O’Neill and Karyn Stockdale of the National Audubon Society talk about a recent report that highlights the threats to two major habitats used by migrating birds in the West: saline lakes and riparian habitat along the Colorado River.

The report highlights how drying saline lakes in the West and changing riparian habitat along the Colorado River are impacting migrating birds. But the two habitats also share a vulnerability to climate change and water management. The demand for water from growing metropolitan areas, like Salt Lake City, is often at the expense of these habitats and wildlife.

But David O’Neill, Audubon’s chief conservation officer, says that doesn’t have to be the case. In the report, Audubon highlights areas where environmentalists are working with policymakers, water managers and farmers to supply both birds and people in the West with enough water.

Saline lakes and riparian habitat on the Colorado both provide invaluable habitat for birds flying from Canada to Latin America and back every year.

Saline lakes, like the Great Salt Lake or the Salton Sea, provide valuable food and resting spots for shore birds, such as American avocets, while riparian shrubs and willows on the Colorado River provide food and shelter for vireos, warblers, flycatchers and more.

Water Deeply spoke with O’Neill and Karyn Stockdale, director of Audubon’s Western Water Initiative, about the report, the relationship between birds and water in the West and how Audubon hopes to help meet the water needs of people and the environment…

Water Deeply: Have you had success in solving the issues that you lay out in terms of the saline lakes and riparian systems along the Colorado River?

Stockdale: In the Grand Valley in Colorado, the Grand Valley Irrigation District has been implementing a few pilot projects, essentially doing more water conservation, upgrading old irrigation infrastructure, improving some of the flows on the Colorado. And while the volume of water is small, what’s really happening is that it’s demonstrating to water users and the decision-makers in the area, this kind of project’s possible, that it actually has mutual benefits. So there are a lot of small examples like that. Sort of, laying out the path and proving that this really works, being able to then talk in kind of the larger scale.

@USBR Announces Public Scoping Meetings for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, Proposed First Increment Extension, Environmental Assessment

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Brock Merrill):

The Bureau of Reclamation is preparing an environmental assessment (EA) for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, Proposed First Increment Extension. Reclamation, working with the states of Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska, water users, and environmental and conservation organizations, proposes to extend the First Increment of the basin-wide, cooperative Recovery Implementation Program by 13 years. Reclamation is doing this to meet its obligations under the Endangered Species Act.

The purpose of this action is to continue implementing projects that provide additional water, in order to accomplish the following:

  • Reduce flow shortages in the Platte River aimed at conforming with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service target flows
  • Continue land management activities necessary to provide habitat for target threatened and endangered species
  • Continue integrated monitoring, research, and adaptive management, in order to assess the progress of the program and inform future management decisions
  • Reclamation will hold four public scoping meetings during the 45-day scoping period to gather information from other agencies, interested parties, and the public on the scope of alternatives for the EA. The public is encouraged to attend the open house EA scoping meetings, to learn more about the proposal and to assist Reclamation in identifying issues.

    The public scoping meetings on the EA are scheduled as follows (All meetings will be held 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.):

  • October 4, 2017, at Goshen County Fair Grounds, 7078 Fairgrounds Road, Torrington, Wyoming
  • October 5, 2017, at The Ranch Events Complex, 5280 Arena Circle, Loveland, Colorado (Located in the Larimer County Conference Center; park in Lot B)
  • October 11, 2017, at Hotel Grand, 2503 S. Locust Street, Grand Island, Nebraska
  • October 12, 2017, at Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Executive Director’s Office, 4111 4th Avenue, Suite 6, Kearney, Nebraska
  • At each meeting, the public will have the opportunity to provide written input on resources to be evaluated, significant issues or concerns, and potential alternatives.

    Written comments are due by close of business November 2, 2017. Members of the public may submit written comments at the public scoping meetings, via email to platteriver@usbr.gov, or by mail to:

    Bureau of Reclamation
    Attention: Brock Merrill
    P.O. Box 950
    Torrington, WY 82240

    For additional information, please visit the project website at http://www.usbr.gov/gp/nepa/platte_river/index.html.

    @USBR grant ($965,000) to Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and Grand Valley Water Users Association for hydro plant

    Photo credit: The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Construction could begin this year on upgrading the hydroelectric plant on the Colorado River near Palisade with a $965,000 federal grant.

    The Bureau of Reclamation on Tuesday awarded the grant to the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and Grand Valley Water Users Association.

    The grant is one of 43 WaterSmart grants made to agencies around the country and will help fund a $5.2 million project to replace and upgrade the turbines at the plant.

    The turbines now in the plant are the original equipment installed in 1932, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District General Manager Max Schmidt said.

    He decided to seek the grant last year after the plant was shut down and he inspected the turbines…

    Better turbines will make it possible for the plant to generate 4.1 megawatts, or an expansion of 1.35 megawatts.

    It also will allow for the plant to generate an additional 6,000 megawatt-hours.

    The improvement and new power generation will maintain and protect the plant’s existing water right and help assure that there will be enough water in the Colorado River’s 15-mile reach for endangered fish, in particular the Colorado pike minnow, razorback sucker and humpback chub, the Colorado River District noted.

    Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

    @CPW and @JSandersonCO find ~8 week old bluehead sucker fry in Dolores River

    August 16, 2017: Colorado ParksWildlife and John Sanderson found imperiled bluehead sucker fry on Dolores River — a hopeful sign.
    Blue head sucker
    Dolores River watershed