Water from Ruedi to again flow down Fryingpan for endangered fish — @AspenJournalism

The Fryingpan River flowing at 298 cfs on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. Photo credit Brent Gardner-Smith Aspen Journalism.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

BASALT – Anglers on the Fryingpan River can expect again this year to see as much as 300 cubic feet per second of water released from Ruedi Reservoir in late summer and early fall to bolster flows in 15 miles of the Colorado River near Grand Junction to benefit endangered fish populations.

Water released from Ruedi flows down the Fryingpan to the Roaring Fork River and then into the Colorado River.

The directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board at a regular meeting March 23 approved a third annual lease with the Ute Water Conservancy District that allows for CWCB to release 12,000 acre-feet of water from Ruedi at a cost of $86,400, or $7.20 per acre-foot.

Ute Water, which provides water to 80,000 people in the Grand Junction area, paid $15.6 million in 2013 to store 12,000 acre-feet of water in Ruedi each year. Ute Water considers its Ruedi water to be a backup supply, but since the water can also be used for environmental and instream flow purposes, it’s willing to lease it on a year-to-year basis to the CWCB.

In turn, the CWCB works with officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the release of the water as part of the Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program, which is working to maintain populations of four species of large native fish: the Colorado pikeminnow, the razorback sucker, the bonytail, and the humpback chub.

A graph showing the flow in the Fryingpan River in 2016 and the periods and amount of water leased by the CWCB from Ute Water and then released to benefit the 15-mile reach.
A sign along the lower Fryingpan, describing the trout in the river.

Flow regime

For the third year in a row, state and federal water managers have pledged to release no more than 300 cfs of water from the Ute Water pool in Ruedi, and work to keep all flows in the Fryingpan under 350 cfs in order to preserve the “wadability” of the popular fly-fishing stream.

Flows of about 220 cfs are considered ideal for fly-fishing clients by two local commercial guide services working on the Fryingpan, and flows of about 300 cfs in late 2015 brought complaints of high water to the CWCB from guides and their clients.

But last year, anglers seem to have gone with the steady flow on the Fryingpan of just less than 300 cfs from mid-August to late September, as no formal complaints were lodged with the CWCB, according to Linda Bassi, chief of the agency’s stream and lake protection section.

Rick Lofaro, executive director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, said last year appeared to have gone OK on the river for wading clients.

“The flow stayed where they said it would and I did not hear any complaints,” Lofaro said via email. “However, I think people do mind, especially if the level exceeds 300. The two fly shops in town would be quick to register concern. So far, it seems to be working.”

Last year, a special meeting was held in the spring to discuss the pending releases of fish water from Ruedi. This year, after having contacted local stakeholders, the CWCB decided the issue could simply be discussed at the regular annual meeting on Ruedi operations held by the Bureau of Reclamation.

The black line is the flow target. The green line is flow after diversions. The blue line is flow after releases from upstream reservoirs.
Danielle Tremblay of Colorado Parks and Wildlife holding a Colorado pikeminnow collected on the Colorado River in Grand Junction. An apex predator in the Colorado, pikeminnows used to be found up to six feet long and weighing 100 pounds.

Large diversions

As the endangered fish do better with more water in the river, a key part of the recovery effort is keeping flows in the 15-mile reach at least as high as 1,240 cfs in an average year and 810 cfs in a dry year, although the target flow levels are often not met.

The 15-mile reach is depleted by two large irrigation diversions — the Grand Valley Project in DeBeque Canyon and the Grand Valley Irrigation Canal in Palisade. Last year during the critical months of August and September, they diverted at a steady rate of about 1,600 cfs, primarily to irrigate alfalfa, according to state records.

That level of diversion leaves about 400 cfs in the Colorado River, but the fish water sent downstream brings the river back toward the 1,000 cfs level.

In 2015, the first year of the lease with Ute Water, the CWCB and Fish and Wildlife released 9,000 acre-feet from the total pool of 12,000 acre-feet owned by Ute Water in Ruedi.

In 2016, after approving a second one-year lease, the two agencies released all of the 12,000 acre-feet, with half of it flowing down the river between Aug. 27 and Sept. 11 and half released between Sept. 25 and Oct. 14.

Fish and Wildlife also has access to other pools of fish water in Ruedi, and all told in 2016 there was 27,413 acre-feet of water released from Ruedi to the benefit of the endangered fish. But Ruedi is not the only source of water for the 15-mile reach.

Green Mountain Reservoir, located in the northern end of Summit County on the Blue River, released 55,390 acre-feet in 2016 for the 15-mile reach, according to Don Anderson, a hydrologist with the recovery program. Wolford Reservoir, north of Kremmling, released 5,766 acre-feet for reach, while Granby Reservoir in Grand County released 5,413 acre-feet and Williams Fork Reservoir, east of Kremmling, released 234 acre-feet.

In all, that’s 94,216 acre feet of water sent down the Colorado River to the 15-mile reach. By comparison, Ruedi holds 102,373 acre feet of water.

Large diversions

The 94,000 acre feet of water sent to bolster flows in the 15-mile reach is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount taken out by the two largest diverters above the reach.

In 2016, state diversion records show that about 1 million acre-feet of water was diverted by the Grand Valley Project and the Grand Valley Irrigation Canal, although a portion of that was diverted to make electricity and was immediately returned to the river.

The big diverters on the river, which include the Grand Valley Irrigation Company, the Grand Valley Water Users Association, and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, are, however, paying increasing attention to the 15-mile reach and do work cooperatively on a weekly conference call with officials at Fish and Wildlife and CWCB to manage flows.

The irrigators also have been working to improve the efficiency of their irrigation systems and are more willing than in past years to approve late-season releases of surplus water held in Green Mountain Reservoir, according to Michelle Garrison, a water resources specialist at the CWCB.

“So there is progress being made,” Garrison said.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News on coverage of rivers and water in the upper Colorado River basin.

@CWCB_DNR board approves lease with @UteWater for #ColoradoRiver endangered fish program — @AspenJournalism

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Summit Daily News:

Anglers on the Fryingpan River can expect again this year to see as much as 300 cubic feet per second of water released from Ruedi Reservoir in late summer and early fall to bolster flows in 15 miles of the Colorado River near Grand Junction to benefit endangered fish populations.

Water released from Ruedi flows down the Fryingpan to the Roaring Fork River and then into the Colorado River.

The directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board at a regular meeting on March 23 approved a third annual lease with the Ute Water Conservancy District that allows for CWCB to release 12,000 acre-feet of water from Ruedi at a cost of $86,400, or $7.20 per acre-foot.

Ute Water, which provides water to 80,000 people in the Grand Junction area, paid $15.6 million in 2013 to store 12,000 acre-feet of water in Ruedi each year. Ute Water considers its Ruedi water to be a backup supply, but since the water can also be used for environmental and “instream flow” purposes, it’s willing to lease it on a year-to-year basis to the CWCB.

In turn, the CWCB works with officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the release of water as part of the Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program, which is working to maintain populations of four species of large native fish: the Colorado pikeminnow, the razorback sucker, the bonytail and the humpback chub.

For the third year in a row, state and federal water managers have pledged to release no more than 300 cfs of water from the Ute Water pool in Ruedi, and work to keep all flows in the Fryingpan under 350 cfs in order to preserve the wade-ability of the popular fly-fishing stream.

Flows of about 220 cfs are considered ideal for fly-fishing clients by two local commercial guide services working on the Fryingpan, and flows of about 300 cfs in late 2015 brought complaints of high water to the CWCB from guides and their clients.

But last year, anglers seem to have gone with the steady flow on the Fryingpan of just less than 300 cfs from mid-August to late September, as no formal complaints were lodged with the CWCB, according to Linda Bassi, chief of the agency’s stream and lake protection section.

Rick Lofaro, executive director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, said last year appeared to have gone OK on the river for wading clients.

“The flow stayed where they said it would and I did not hear any complaints,” Lofaro said via email. “However, I think people do mind, especially if the level exceeds 300. The two fly shops in town would be quick to register concern. So far, it seems to be working.”

Last year, a special meeting was held in the spring to discuss the pending releases of fish water from Ruedi. This year, after having contacted local stakeholders, the CWCB decided the issue could simply be discussed at the regular annual meeting on Ruedi operations held by the Bureau of Reclamation.

As the endangered fish do better with more water in the river, a key part of the recovery effort is keeping flows in the 15-mile reach at least as high as 1,240 cfs in an average year and 810 cfs in a dry year, although the target flow levels are often not met.

The 15-mile reach is depleted by two large irrigation diversions — the Grand Valley Project in DeBeque Canyon and the Grand Valley Irrigation Canal in Palisade. Last year during the critical months of August and September, they diverted at a steady rate of about 1,600 cfs, primarily to irrigate alfalfa, according to state records.

That level of diversion leaves about 400 cfs in the Colorado River, but the “fish water” sent downstream brings the river back toward the 1,000 cfs level.

In 2015, the first year of the lease with Ute Water, the CWCB and Fish and Wildlife released 9,000 acre feet from the total pool of 12,000 acre feet owned by Ute Water in Ruedi.

In 2016, after approving a second one-year lease, the two agencies released all of the 12,000 acre feet, with half of it flowing down the river between Aug. 27 and Sept. 11 and half released between Sept. 25 and Oct. 14.

Fish and Wildlife also has access to other pools of “fish water” in Ruedi, and all told in 2016 there were 27,413 acre feet of water released from Ruedi to the benefit of the endangered fish. But Ruedi is not the only source of water for the 15-mile reach.

Green Mountain Reservoir, located in the northern end of Summit County on the Blue River, released 55,390 acre feet in 2016 for the 15-mile reach, according to Don Anderson, a hydrologist with the recovery program. Wolford Reservoir, north of Kremmling, released 5,766 acre feet for reach, while Granby Reservoir in Grand County released 5,413 acre feet and Williams Fork Reservoir, east of Kremmling, released 234 acre feet.

In all, that’s 94,216 acre feet of water sent down the Colorado River to the 15-mile reach. By comparison, Ruedi holds 102,373 acre feet of water.

The 94,000 acre feet of water sent to bolster flows in the 15-mile reach is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount taken out by the two largest diverters above the reach.

In 2016, state diversion records show that about 1 million acre-feet of water were diverted by the Grand Valley Project and the Grand Valley Irrigation Canal, although a portion of that was diverted to make electricity and was immediately returned to the river.

The big diverters on the river, which include the Grand Valley Irrigation Company, the Grand Valley Water Users Association and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, are, however, paying increasing attention to the 15-mile reach and do work cooperatively on a weekly conference call with officials at Fish and Wildlife and CWCB to manage flows.

The irrigators also have been working to improve the efficiency of their irrigation systems and are more willing than in past years to approve late-season releases of “surplus” water held in Green Mountain Reservoir, according to Michelle Garrison, a water resources specialist at the CWCB.

“So there is progress being made,” Garrison said.

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News on coverage of rivers and water in the upper Colorado River basin. More at AspenJournalism.org.

@EPA: “…abolishing the agency…I personally think it’s a good idea” — Myron Ebell

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Peter Marcus) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The man who led transition efforts for President Trump at the EPA said the administration’s proposed budget signals a commitment to abolish the agency.

But Myron Ebell, a Colorado College graduate and an outspoken climate change skeptic who leads energy and environment policy at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, said it is not an overnight effort.

The administration’s preliminary 2018 budget proposal released Thursday charts a course that could lead to the end of the federal environmental agency, Ebell said, speaking to a conservative group at the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute in Denver on Thursday.

Ebell had proposed Trump make a 10 percent cut to the EPA in his first budget request. The proposal unveiled Thursday would cut the agency by significantly more, up to 31 percent. It represents about a $2.6 billion cut to the agency’s relatively small, when compared to other federal agencies, $8.2 billion budget.

The cuts would result in about 3,200 employees being laid off in the initial wave, which could include many regional staff. Denver is home to Region 8 headquarters, a multi-state jurisdiction that covers much of the Intermountain West, which employs about 500 people.

“I think there’s a serious commitment here to draining the swamp,” Ebell, calling upon a popular Trump campaign mantra, said to applause.

The preliminary budget request would eliminate as much as a fifth of the agency’s workforce, which stands at around 15,000. More than 50 programs would be eliminated, including energy grants that help to fight air pollution. Scientific research would also face massive cuts.

Environmental interests had feared Trump’s budget proposal would start to chip away at the EPA, ultimately leading to closure. News of the preliminary budget sent many into a tailspin, as it potentially signals a much faster outcome.

Trump also proposed a 12 percent cut to the Interior Department and a 5.6 percent cut to the Department of Energy.

“The president’s budget is a moral document, and President Trump has shown us exactly where he stands. These unprecedented cuts will hamper the ability of our park rangers, scientists, those who enforce the law against polluters, and other Coloradans from doing their important work,” said Jessica Goad, spokeswoman for Conservation Colorado.

“This is not just cutting the fat, this is a complete butchering of programs and jobs that are critical to Colorado.”

The move leaves specific uncertainty in Colorado, where the EPA has promised to cleanup toxic leaking mines that are spilling into the Animas River in Durango. The Gold King Mine spill in August 2015 was triggered by an EPA engineering error, causing about 3 million gallons of mustard yellow sludge to pour into the river.

In the aftermath of the spill, the EPA declared the area a Superfund site, which allows it to spend significant resources to implement a long-term water quality cleanup effort. Some worry those efforts would be diminished by reductions at the EPA.

But Ebell said a pushback to the EPA’s “regulatory rampage” does not mean that environmental controls would go away. He said regulations would still be enforced – especially on the state level – including around Superfund sites and clean drinking water.

“The question is, why do we need 15,000 people working for the EPA?” asked Ebell. “I understand why we need some … Maybe abolishing the agency is something that President Trump … would want to have a discussion about … I personally think it’s a good idea.”

Busting up the EPA is not a good idea, Myron.

Environmental Defense Fund looking for win-wins with farmers RE: groundwater depletion

The High Plains Aquifer provides 30 percent of the water used in the nation’s irrigated agriculture. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

[ed. Coloradans know that ranchers and farmers are key stakeholders in the preservation of habitat and water resources, and they grow our food.]

Here’s an interview with EDF staffers from Matt Weise writing for Water Deeply. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Environmental Defense Fund is launching a new Western water strategy that aims to solve the problems of groundwater depletion and habitat restoration by working jointly with farmers.

FARMERS AND ENVIRONMENTALISTS have often been at odds. Farmers, for instance, rarely want it known that their land might host an endangered species, for fear regulations could come crashing down. Environmentalists are fond of regulations to protect natural resources, but rarely do much to help farmers comply.

These old patterns are beginning to change as the two camps find they have more in common than stereotypes suggest. One group working along this path is Environmental Defense Fund, which is developing a new Western water strategy aimed at helping farmers cope with scarcity.

The new policy, still being developed, aims to help farmers and irrigation districts comply with California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). EDF also plans to help create water markets, so farmers can sell or trade water when they have a surplus…

To get a preview of the new strategy and how it can help both wildlife and farm economies, Water Deeply recently spoke with three EDF staffers: David Festa, senior vice president, ecosystems; Maurice Hall, associate vice president, ecosystems and water; and Ann Hayden, senior director, California habitat and Western water.

Water Deeply: What region are you focusing on, exactly?

Maurice Hall: Generally, we think of our problem set as the areas where irrigated agriculture is the prominent water use. That tends to correspond to the area where we have the biggest stresses on water and water scarcity issues.

Right now, there are two really big opportunities to insert new solutions. One is California, and in large part the opportunity we have now is due to passage of SGMA. Because of the stresses that is going to add to an already stressed system, it will cause us to have do a lot of things differently.

The second big opportunity is in the Colorado River Basin, especially in the Lower Colorado region. There are clear signs of imbalance on Lake Mead, the big storage reservoir that the Lower Basin states depend on.

Water Deeply: You’re developing an open-source toolkit to help people comply with California’s SGMA and a series of workshops. That’s kind of unusual for an environmental group, isn’t it?

Ann Hayden: We recognized that the responsibility SGMA was going to put on local agencies to figure this out was going to be a huge burden. Our strategy is really to target those folks in the Central Valley who seem more willing and better positioned to get out ahead of the far-off deadlines in SGMA, and figure out ways they can be credited for doing those things.

Specifically, we’re thinking of ways we can help with groundwater recharge and developing a groundwater market. We’re focusing on where those opportunities lie.

We also recognized that in order for this to be a sustainable solution, we really need to figure out ways in which we can get disadvantaged communities to have a seat at the table, and equip them with tools and resources to engage in decision-making. We’re working with partners on the ground in the Central Valley to establish a Water Leadership Program.

Water Deeply: And you’re actually working on trying to incubate new water markets. How will that work?

Hall: Consider, right now, the agriculture water users who have water rights. Because of the way we’ve built our system and the social norms and policies we have established, they have few choices of how they can use their water. They can either grow their crops or not use their water. Because if you don’t use your water, you lose the water right. So there’s an incentive to use the water whether or not it’s really economically viable, or whether it’s really what you want to do most.

So the value of water markets, generally, is to give those who have the rights some flexibility in how they use water, so they can manage it as an asset, as opposed to just an input of their agricultural production. That opens up a lot of options. Maybe I’m growing a crop I’m barely making money on, and somebody downstream needs some water to supplement their almond orchard. And I can trade my water to them and use less on my land, and we’re both better off.

One of the problems is that if you do that without the right sideboards in place, you can have some undesirable impacts. For instance, you might reduce the recharge to groundwater in your local areas because you’re not irrigating your field. So building water-trading programs that include those externalities is what is necessary going forward, and why we see the importance of us being involved in making this happen.

Water Deeply: You sponsored a bill last year, AB 2304, to help launch water markets in the state. What’s the status of that bill, and what comes next?

Hayden: We started working with the Association of California Water Agencies, which is also coming out with its policy principles on what should and could happen to improve water markets. There was a lot of common ground. Unfortunately, there’s a whole spectrum of perspectives among its members. When it came down to it, it was too challenging to gain full support of ACWA at this point to make movement on legislation. That said, we are committed to working with ACWA on other possible policy improvements, maybe those that don’t require legislation at first.

Hall: There have been really bad examples of what ill-planned water trades can do. A dramatic example happened on the Front Range of Colorado, where pretty significant communities have been dried up through purchase of agricultural land and the water rights that go along with them – so-called “buy-and-dry” transitions that have been in the news for decades. So we recognize we have more education to do.

Water Deeply: You also want to incentivize farmers to idle land for environmental purposes. Is this a kind of land trust?

Festa: What we’d like to do is create the economic systems that will allow farmers and ranchers to look at the environment, essentially, as a crop. They can manage their lands in ways that produce a very specific environmental benefit and get paid to do it. The concept is a cousin to things like conservation easements and land banks, where land is taken out of production. But in a lot of those cases, not much, oftentimes, is actually done to manage it for a particular environmental outcome.

Hayden: In the groundwater context, it is one area where we may have a nice linkage with land restoration. We’re probably going to see more land that has to go idle in order for farmers to adjust to how water supply is going to change under SGMA. We want to get out ahead of that and help farmers design good habitat on their land – and have them be paid for that. There also could be opportunities for farmers to do on-farm groundwater recharge, and ways we can design those activities that are also beneficial to creating habitat.

Water Deeply: Any examples on the ground now?

Hayden: We have a number of pilot projects where we have been able to test our habitat quantification tool. It’s a tool to be able to measure a habitat function on a parcel of agricultural land. It allows you to plug in different practices a farmer could implement to improve that function for a suite of at-risk species.

The one site where we’re about to launch a restoration project is called Elliott Ranch in West Sacramento. We were able to get Proposition 1 funding from the Delta Conservancy to be able to compensate that landowner to make some changes in agricultural practices and direct deliberate restoration on the property. We’re about to start on the actual project and get shovels in the ground in the next couple of months. That’s a project that’s really focused on Swainson’s hawk.

Groundwater movement via the USGS

Roaring Fork Valley: Cutthroat Trout — Conservation Through Uncertainty — Wilderness Workshop

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Click here for all the inside skinny on the presentations March 1st and March 2nd. Here’s an excerpt from the website:

For decades, biologists accepted that Colorado’s native cutthroat trout could be distinguished by their location: Greenbacks were east of the Continental Divide, Colorado River cutthroat were west, Rio Grande cutthroat were in their namesake watershed, and the Yellowfin cutthroat have been extinct from Twin Lakes since the early 1900s.

However, using innovative genetic technology, researchers recently revealed that remnant Greenback populations on the eastern slope were actually Colorado River cutthroat trout, and fish that genetically resembled Greenbacks were unexpectedly numerous on the western slope. This was a blow to recovery efforts for Colorado’s Greenback cutthroat trout, a Threatened Species, and native trout conservation in general. It was unclear if this reflected the widespread sportfish stocking efforts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, or a gap in the knowledge about our indigenous cutthroat trout. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) conducted an investigation to solve this mystery.

Kendall Bakich, Fisheries Biologist at CPW, will discuss and explain these results. CPW has always used the “best available science” to protect the legacy of our native cutthroat and Kendall will outline how the agency continues to work on the frontline to preserve native trout diversity and enhance resiliency so the species persist well into the future.

Kendall is an Aquatic Biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Her work focuses on the management and conservation of sportfish populations in the Eagle and Roaring Fork watersheds, as well as the Colorado River and its tributaries between Canyon Creek and State Bridge.

CARBONDALE — Wednesday, March 1st, at 5:30 P.M. at Third Street Center
ASPEN — Thursday, March 2, at 7:00 P.M. at ACES at Hallam Lake

The Naturalist Nights series is presented by the Wilderness Workshop, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and Roaring Fork Audubon. Presentations are hosted Wednesdays at the Third Street Center in Carbondale at 5:30 P.M. and Thursdays at ACES at Hallam Lake in Aspen at 7:00 P.M.

#Colorado river otters enjoying modest success

North American River Otter: Live in coastal estuaries, rivers and even mountain streams. Sightings of river otters in the wild are rare because they prefer uninhabited areas with clean, clear water where food is abundant. Photo credit South Carolina Aquarium.
North American River Otter: Live in coastal estuaries, rivers and even mountain streams. Sightings of river otters in the wild are rare because they prefer uninhabited areas with clean, clear water where food is abundant. Photo credit South Carolina Aquarium.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists say that, after completing the reintroduction of about 120 young male and female otters 25 years ago, otters are multiplying with a statewide population now numbering in the hundreds.

The recovery here, mirrored in other states that reintroduced otters decades ago, stands out in the struggle for wildlife survival because biologists consider otters a “sentinel species” that is highly sensitive to pollution. It shows how a relatively modest state effort to keep an imperiled species off the federal endangered species list — the U.S. ecological equivalent of an emergency room — can lead to a comeback.

State-run reintroduction “has made a significant contribution to the conservation of river otters throughout the state of Colorado,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Leslie Ellwood said. “We’re now seeing river otters in streams and lakes where they had not been seen for the past 100 years.”

Although Colorado officials could not produce current population survey data or a peer-reviewed study, and while otters still are classified as “threatened” in the state, CPW tables indicate otters exist in 38 of 64 counties.

This means habitat suitable to otters in Colorado is relatively healthy, said Reid DeWalt, assistant director of wildlife and natural resources for the state. “CPW is vested in the long-term sustainability and balance of wildlife for future generations.”

[…]

Otters eat practically any animal that moves in riparian corridors: fish, frogs, snakes, turtles, crayfish, birds, salamanders. They grow to be 3- to 4-feet long, with males weighing about 25 pounds and females about 18 pounds. When predators such as coyotes lurk, otters have the ability to chase them away. And they energetically chase one another, sliding crazily along muddy banks — activities biologists describe as pure play for fun.

The prospect of a widening recovery has emerged as a success at a time when conservationists warn that scores of other plant and animal species are vanishing…

Starting in 1976, Colorado wildlife crews reintroduced river otters at five sites: Denver Water’s Cheesman Reservoir, Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Gunnison, Piedra and Dolores rivers. Similar efforts were happening elsewhere in the United States. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that more than 4,000 otters were reintroduced across 21 states.

Colorado kept up the reintroductions until 1991.

In 2003, members of the Colorado Wildlife Commission decided to down-list the status of the river otter to “threatened” from “endangered.” It’s still illegal to hunt them.

Colorado wildlife officials contend that the reintroduced otters are thriving with established populations around the Western Slope in waterways, including the Colorado, Green, Yampa, Dolores, Gunnison and San Miguel rivers, as well as tributaries in each basin.

Yet state monitoring is limited. CPW relies on Colorado residents to serve as eyes and ears — filling out and submitting forms giving details when they spot otters. Mink, beavers and muskrats share the same habitat as otters and, sometimes when seen swimming, are confused with otters.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials, charged with enforcing the federal Endangered Species Act, welcome state efforts to head off crises, said Marjorie Nelson, the USFWS regional chief of ecological services.

Humpback chubs are making a comeback in the Little #ColoradoRiver

NPS and USFWS personnel use a seine net to trap humpback chubs in the Little Colorado River. Photo credit Mike Pillow (USFWS) via the Arizona Daily Sun.
NPS and USFWS personnel use a seine net to trap humpback chubs in the Little Colorado River. Photo credit Mike Pillow (USFWS) via the Arizona Daily Sun.

From the Arizona Daily Sun (Emery Cowan):

Thanks to fewer predators and more food at the upriver location, the transplanted fish have come to thrive compared to their downstream brethren, making for a conservation success story that just received national recognition.

The fish-moving process, called translocation, is headed up by a team from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with help from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service. The team received the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2016 Rachel Carson Award for Exemplary Scientific Accomplishment for its contribution to the recovery of the endangered humpback chub, a distinctive and well-known pillar of the Grand Canyon ecosystem…

Humpback chub congregate in the lower part of the Little Colorado, close to its confluence. Before translocations started the species hadn’t been found above a natural travertine dam 14 kilometers upriver. But that stretch of the river, above what’s called Chute Falls, has warmer water, abundant food sources like insects and the tiny speckled dace and far fewer predators, which for the chub include invasive trout and catfish. Like an in-stream fish hatchery, the area makes for an ideal natural rearing habitat that comes with less disease transmission and genetic challenges, said Randy Van Haverbeke, a senior fish biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service who is involved in the work. Seeing an opportunity to expand the chub’s range and establish another aggregation that could contribute to the population downriver, biologists started translocating humpback chub above Chute Falls in 2003 and now move about 300 baby fish annually, said Mike Pillow, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

More than a decade in, biologists have consistently measured increased growth and survival among the translocated chub compared to non-translocated chub, indicating promise for the conservation tactic to augment the species’ populations in Grand Canyon, Van Haverbeke said.

In the area above Chute Falls, biologists have recaptured an average of 24 percent of fish translocated the year before, Pillow said.

In the bigger picture, he said, the project’s goal is to build up humpback chub numbers to enable the eventual delisting of the species.

Going beyond the Little Colorado River, the translocation process has been replicated by officials at Grand Canyon National Park as well, where chub from the Colorado River were transported up Havasu and Shinumo creeks. The goal was the same: to establish new population groups of chub within the species’ ancestral habitat where they may be better able to survive. Doing so in more locations creates redundancy, so if something were ever to happen in the Little Colorado River “all our eggs aren’t in one basket,” Van Haverbeke said.

Biologists with the National Park Service have seen as much as a five to 10-fold increase in chub in the mainstem of the Colorado River below those two creeks, suggesting translocation is having a positive impact, he said.

Measurable impacts on total chub population numbers in the Little Colorado River are harder to determine because the population is bigger and the fish are affected by other factors like the temperature of water releases from Glen Canyon Dam, Pillow and Van Haverbeke said.

“But the bottom line is we have increased survival and growth rates compared to not translocating (the fish). Then you have to assume it’s a positive (impact),” Van Haverbeke said.

Also important to note is the fact that this is a feasible, doable conservation action proven to help the fish, as opposed to something much harder to influence like modifying dam operations, he said.

The process also involves relatively minimal human impact, Pillow said, instead helping Mother Nature with “little nudges.”

Humpback chub photo credit US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Humpback chub photo credit US Fish and Wildlife Service.