#ColoradoRiver District to release water for Grand Valley irrigators, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork will benefit

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The Colorado River District has agreed to boost water levels to help fish in the Roaring Fork River watershed while also conserving water for use by local irrigators later in the season and improving the chances for boosting flows this fall for endangered fish.

The action also could help protect water quality in the case of anticipated ash in waterways due to expected flooding and debris flows resulting from the Lake Christine Fire near Basalt.

The river district is releasing water from Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt to boost flows in the Fryingpan River and Roaring Fork River to help reduce water temperatures to benefit trout. Low flows and warm temperatures in western Colorado have led to Colorado Parks and Wildlife urging anglers to avoid fishing later in the day on numerous western Colorado waterways due to the stress trout currently are facing.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation approved the river district releases last week. They are expected to range between 50 and 100 cubic feet per second.

River district spokesman Zane Kessler said the water to be released is owned and managed by the river district’s enterprise…

The water technically is being delivered downstream for Grand Valley irrigation needs but is creating environmental benefits on its way there. The water otherwise would have been delivered from Green Mountain Reservoir south of Kremmling.

Kessler said the Ruedi releases will allow for conserving a part of what’s called the historic users pool at Green Mountain Reservoir for use later in the season, which would benefit Grand Valley irrigators. The releases also increase the chances that, despite it being a dry year, that pool can be declared to have a surplus. That surplus could then be delivered in September and October to what’s known as the 15-Mile Reach, a stretch of the Colorado River in the Grand Valley where the flows would benefit endangered fish.

“This has never been done before,” Kessler said of the flow agreement. “But we’ve rarely seen river levels like this before either.”

The potential for easing the impacts of ash flow also could be felt in the Grand Valley. There is concern that ash flows could force the Clifton Water District to suspend use of Colorado River water. Area water providers have an agreement to help each other in meeting short-term water needs should that kind of emergency situation arise, but doing so this year would further deplete drought-stressed supplies.

Kessler said retaining some Green Mountain Reservoir water for release later in the year also could benefit recreational uses of the Upper Colorado River.

Meanwhile, the river district is taking another step aimed at helping ensure that benefiting fish in the Roaring Fork Valley doesn’t harm fish on the Colorado River upstream of the Roaring Fork confluence. The district is currently delivering what Kessler called “fish water” from Wolford Reservoir north of Kremmling into the upper Colorado River because it is having to lower the reservoir’s water level in preparation for doing some work on the dam there.

@USBR approves “coordinated” approach to increase #ColoradoRiver streamflow in the Grand Valley #COriver

Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

From The Aspen Times:

The Colorado River District is working with state and federal water managers to increase flows in the Fryingpan River by as much as 100 cubic feet per second (cfs), helping trout in the watershed survive warm temperatures while supplying water for downstream irrigation needs in the Grand Valley.

Anticipated releases are expected to range between 50 cfs and 100 cfs and will be coordinated between the River District, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase flows in the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers downstream from Ruedi Reservoir.

“This should significantly benefit flows below Ruedi Reservoir,” said John Currier, chief engineer for the district. “We expect that the supplement flows may also help to mitigate water-quality problems anticipated from fire-related ash and debris flows stemming from the Lake Christine Fire on Basalt Mountain.”

Technically, the water will be delivered downstream for Grand Valley irrigation needs while creating environmental benefits as it flows downstream. Green Mountain Reservoir releases will be reduced by an equal amount in order to conserve storage for late-season releases, which in turn will be needed to help endangered fish near Grand Junction.

The coordinated approach was given final approval by the Bureau of Reclamation on Monday. In order to boost Fryingpan levels while the plan awaited approval, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implemented a 50 cfs release from its dedicated endangered fish pool in Ruedi on Friday. Those flows were supplemented by 30 additional cfs Monday, bringing the flow in the Fryingpan to 200 cfs.

Both Ruedi and Green Mountain reservoirs contribute water to the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. In this case, the changed water release plan will benefit trout below Ruedi while endangered fish still receive water from upstream Colorado River reservoirs.

Increased flows of cold water out of Ruedi should also help to alleviate some stress on trout fisheries in the watershed brought on by higher-than-normal water temperatures. Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced voluntary fishing closures earlier this month on sections of the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers.

Native trout hitch a ride — Colorado Trout Unlimited

From Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

Last week, the endangered Greenback cutthroat trout got a major boost from Trout Unlimited volunteers and agency partners in Colorado.

Once thought to be extinct, this rare fish is making a big comeback thanks to the efforts of the Greenback Cutthroat Recovery Team – a partnership that includes the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife, the National Park Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Western Native Trout Initiative, and Trout Unlimited.

Over the course of two days in mid-July, 1,700 Year 1 Cutthroats (~4-6 inches) made their way into two headwater drainages in the Clear Creek watershed, an hour west of Denver. The Dry Gulch and Herman Gulch creeks represent the first major river populations for this threatened species since it was rediscovered in 2012.

To help agency partners stock these important little fish, over 80 Trout Unlimited volunteers carried the cutthroats in large packs up steep switchbacks and bushwacked through dense brush to get to the remote rivers. Some people hiked over six miles into the top of the drainage (over 11,500 feet)! These volunteers came from 10 different TU chapters and represented all walks of life – anglers and conservationists coming together to recover this native trout.

“We couldn’t do it without the volunteers,” says Paul Winkle, Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist for the Clear Creek drainage. It was a major undertaking that took a lot of support from agency staff, non-profit partners, and local businesses.

At Colorado TU, we are very proud of the hard work and dedication that our chapters and volunteers provide to these projects. It shows what can happen when people focus on collaboration and overcoming differences. It didn’t matter whether someone was young or old, Democrat or Republican, a dry fly purist or never fished before – we were all side by side, climbing those steep trails together. All to save the Greenback.

The event even drew local media attention and even made it on the nightly cable news:

Why birders and wildlife advocates should care about #LakeMead — Audubon #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Upper Lake Mead dawn patrol. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Audubon (Haley Paul):

Audubon Arizona’s objective is to make sure that the solutions to our water challenges serve both people and wildlife. Water management policies that provide more certainty and reliability for all users are of critical importance to Arizona’s economy as well as its cities, farmers, birds, and other wildlife.

As United States Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman (her federal department manages the water on the Colorado River) highlighted in her recent visit to Tempe, Arizona, if the states cannot come together to stabilize Lake Mead through collective and collaborative agreements to leave more water behind Hoover Dam via the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) we face a potential crisis.

But why care? Water in Lake Mead and the surrounding environment is not the only game in town when it comes to birding and valuable wildlife habitat (never mind the nine Important Bird Areas that surround the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River). But really, as a bird and wildlife advocate, why care about the stabilization of Lake Mead? What’s at stake?

If Arizona-specific parties affected by DCP cannot get to yes, and instead hydrology catches up to us and Lake Mead declines to critical elevations, water users may look elsewhere for water to make themselves whole. Water resources like groundwater, and existing Arizona regulations that promote sustainable water planning, may come under increased scrutiny and pressure. Arizona’s valuable rivers, streams, and the habitats they provide for birds could be at risk if groundwater pumping increases. Not to mention the negative headlines that are sure to result if we cannot agree on a plan to use less Colorado River water.

As opposed to unmitigated shortages that leave people out on the hunt to solve their water supply problems, a much better option is a plan that everyone agrees to. Some of what that currently looks like in Arizona is monetary compensation to use less water, and changes in the way accounting is done on Lake Mead so that willing water users can leave more of their water behind the dam. Through careful negotiation with the affected water users, people can get to yes, and there can be faith in the process and the result.

Another reason to care? We’ll take Commissioner Burman’s lead on this one: Because if Lake Mead gets low enough, “dead pool” could be reached and that means no water is getting past the dam. No Colorado River water is flowing out of Mead. That’s a scary scenario for farmers, cities, and wildlife. Commissioner Burman is clearly worried about a situation like that—hence her urging of the states to commit to Drought Contingency Plans ASAP.

We’d like to thank Commissioner Burman for amplifying the message on this critical issue. We anticipate more information in the weeks and months ahead from the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District on progress toward a DCP. Then, it will be in the hands of state lawmakers and Governor Ducey to construct and pass legislation that allows Arizona to participate in getting DCP done.

At Audubon Arizona, we’ll be watching and participating as the process continues. Being involved in the conversation when policymakers are talking water—one more way we are advocating for our rivers and the wildlife, habitat, and humans who depend on them.

#Drought news: Temperatures in the White River nearing danger level for cold water fish

Lake Avery. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

From Colorado Parks and Wildlife via The Rio Blanco Herald Times:

Due to low flows, dry conditions and extreme heat, water temperatures in the White River are nearing dangerous levels for cold-water fish. Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials are encouraging anglers to fish in the early morning, when water temperatures are cooler and less stressful to fish.
To help mitigate current conditions, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is considering releasing water from Lake Avery to increase flow in the White River, and potentially lower river water temperature.

To answer questions and address concerns about the possible release, CPW invites the public to a roundtable session, 7 p.m., July 9 at Kilowatt Korner (White River Electric Association—WREA), 233 Sixth St., in Meeker, Colo.

“We’ve been here before, and we know what we need to do, “ said Bill de Vergie, Area Wildlife Manager from Meeker. “It’s important that ranchers, landowners, ditch users, fishing guides, anglers, and other members of the public attend our meeting so that we can work together to protect this important fishery.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials and the Colorado Water Conservation Board entered into a water lease agreement in 2012. The agreement allows the release of CPW’s water stored in Lake Avery to help meet the minimum instream flow on the White River of 200 cubic feet per second.

Anglers at Lake Avery will see declining water levels in the lake beginning when the release is initiated.

“When the flow from Lake Avery begins, we will ask users to avoid taking the additional water and instead leave it in the river to give fish a chance of surviving,” said de Vergie. “Everyone around here knows how important this river is to our economy, and we expect that people will comply to ensure the river continues to be a destination fishery.”

Razorback & Flannelmouth Sucker Hybridization — Arizona Game and Fish

The endangered razorback sucker, a fish native to the Grand Canyon, has been hybridizing with another Colorado River fish – the flannelmouth sucker. Arizona Game and Fish biologist Pilar Wolters is conducting a 5-year research project to learn how hybridization could impact the recovery of wild razorback suckers. This video was produced by the Information Branch of the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Producer: David Majure

@COParksWildlife personnel and volunteers work in Bear Creek watershed to catch and spawn Greenback cutthroat

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

From KRDO (Stephanie Sierra):

Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists set up a creekside laboratory along Bear Creek Tuesday to catch and spawn an endangered trout species…

Each spring since the trout was located, CPW biologists have waded into Bear Creek to catch the greenbacks, spawn them, and send the fertilized eggs to the National Fish Hatchery in Leadville.