Unintended consequences: Tamarisk leaf beetle is extending range into Flycatcher habitat

From The Arizona Republic (Brandon Loomis):

Exotic beetles released by the U.S. government to kill exotic trees along the upper Colorado River have munched a destructive path into central Arizona, officials have confirmed, proving to be more mobile and resilient than predicted.

The tamarisk leaf beetle now threatens the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher and other birds that have adapted to the non-native tamarisk that grows so thick along some of the region’s rivers. The beetles can strip a tree of its leaves, ruining it as a home for the birds.

Arizona environmentalists and biologists worry the beetle’s June 8 discovery in Wickenburg dooms many of the remaining flycatchers. Salt River Project has invested millions of dollars and 2,400 acres in mandated habitat protections throughout the Gila River drainage as a condition of raising Lake Roosevelt and displacing old nesting areas.

Some people, like suburban Buckeye’s mayor, are cheering the prospect of a natural thinner for the shrubby tamarisks crowding the Gila River, where thickets of the trees are blamed for flood and fire risks.

But no one knows how much farther the beetles will spread if they find new paths into the Gila River drainage area, which stretches north and east on the Verde and Salt Rivers and south on the Santa Cruz and San Pedro rivers.

An Arizona biologist found beetles and their larvae living in tamarisks on the Hassayampa River, a Gila tributary west of metro Phoenix. The insects had previously moved south from Utah’s Virgin River to Lake Mead and then down the lower Colorado. From there they moved east along the Bill Williams River and its tributaries.

Now they’re within striking distance of the heart of what remains of flycatcher country.

Gila River watershed.

#Runoff news: Coordinated releases for #ColoradoRiver endangered fish #COriver

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via The Los Alamos Daily Post:

Coordinated releases from a series of Upper Colorado River Basin reservoirs began Saturday, June 3, and are anticipated to continue through this week as part of the Coordinated Reservoirs Operations Program.

The US Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado River District, Denver Water and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District as owners and operators of upper Colorado River reservoirs have mutually agreed to modify their operations to benefit the endangered fish of the Upper Colorado River Basin.

The Coordinated Reservoir Operations (CROS) program was established in 1995 as part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. The purpose of the Coordinated Operations is to enhance spring peak flows in a section of the Colorado River upstream of Grand Junction, Colo. Determined to be critical to the survival of four endangered fish species: the Humpback Chub, Razorback Sucker, Bonytail and the Colorado Pikeminnow. The higher peak flows remove more fine sediment from cobble bars that serve as spawning habitat for the endangered fish. In years with sufficient snowpack, surplus inflows to the reservoirs can be passed downstream to benefit these fish without impacting reservoir yields or future beneficial water uses.

Coordinated Reservoir Operations were most recently conducted in 2016, 2015 and 2010. In 2011 and 2014, wet conditions caused streamflows in certain areas of the basin to approach or exceed levels associated with minor flooding, so CROS was not performed. In 2012 and 2013, reservoirs did not have surplus inflow to contribute due to extremely dry conditions.

Managers of the reservoirs completed a conference call June 2, agreeing to voluntarily run the program this year. Planned reservoir operations as of June 2 are described below. Release and flow amounts are approximate. Most reservoirs will step up releases over the next several days, hold at a constant rate for 3-7 days, and then wind down releases.

Green Mountain Reservoir, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, will increase releases from 418 cubic feet per second (cfs) to powerplant capacity of around 1400 cfs. Releases from Green Mountain include inflows bypassed by Dillon Reservoir, operated by Denver Water, that will be increased by approximately 100 cfs during CROS.

Denver Water also operates Williams Fork Reservoir, which is releasing 200 cfs. Releases will likely increase to approximately 600 cfs over the coming week to bypass increasing inflows.

Willow Creek Reservoir, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, is releasing 90 cfs. Releases will increase this week to roughly 600 cfs by curtailing pumping operations to Granby Reservoir and bypassing those inflows instead.

Wolford Mountain Reservoir, operated by the Colorado River District, is passing inflows of 350 cfs. Outflows will be increased to around 600 cfs for approximately five days.

Ruedi Reservoir, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, is releasing 182 cfs and will increase releases to approximately 600 cfs over the next few days.

The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) will incorporate these planned reservoir operations into their streamflow forecasts. Based on weather forecasts and planned reservoir operations, flows in the Colorado River near Cameo (upriver of Palisade, Colo.) are anticipated to be approximately 14,000 – 17,500 cfs, June 7 through June 12, with the highest flows Thursday or Friday June 8 or 9. Flows in the forecasted range are still below defined “bankfull” and flood stages for the area.

More detailed information about forecasted streamflows in the Colorado River basin are available from the CBRFC website at http://www.cbrfc.noaa.gov. A map-based interface allows viewing of hydrographs detailing recent, current and anticipated flows.

For more information, contact Don Anderson, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, at 303.236.9883, donald_anderson@usfws.gov, Michelle Garrison, Colorado Water Conservation Board, at 303.866.3441, ext. 3213, michelle.garrison@state.co.us or James Bishop, Bureau of Reclamation, at 970.962.4326, jbishop@usbr.gov.

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program is a cooperative partnership of local, state and federal agencies, water developers, power customers and environmental groups established in 1988 to recover the endangered fishes while water development proceeds in accordance with federal and state laws and interstate compacts.

From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

Through both natural and man-made activities, the area’s waterbodies will ramp back up to seasonal heights this week. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration anticipates the Colorado River and its primary Summit County tributaries will reach their highest 2017 levels this Wednesday, June 7.

The volume-based flow rates, measured as cubic feet per second, on North Tenmile Creek, for example, will rise from about 600 to 900 cfs and the Blue River north of Dillon should grow in the next two days by another couple hundred cfs from its present 600. To offset forthcoming supply, Denver Water, which owns and oversees Dillon Reservoir, stated that it plans to up flows from Dillon Dam into the Lower Blue River from its Monday total of 380 cfs to 600 no later than Tuesday morning, and between 1,400 and 1,800 cfs by the end of the week.

“The snowpack up on the mountain, it’s now warmed up and is starting to come off,” said Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River District, a public policy agency that closely monitors the region’s major waterway. “It’s fast water, but shouldn’t flood anybody out. All streams will be quicker-paced than people are used to, but the flooding is not the danger.”

[…]

North of Silverthorne, additional releases at Green Mountain Reservoir also allow the Bureau of Reclamation to increase power plant capacity and generate more electricity. Those levels could reach approaching 1,400 cfs from the current 418.

Estimating that 40 percent of the winter’s snowpack still remains above Dillon, Denver Water is comfortable increasing the flows from Dillon Reservoir into the Lower Blue River that ultimately head to northern Arizona’s Lake Powell. That result is threefold, preventing wasteful overflow of the reservoir, maintaining ideal recreational heights on the lake, as well as fulfilling the demands of Lower Basin states based on senior water rights.

“Our experts are monitoring conditions carefully with the goal of ending runoff season with a full reservoir,” Matt Wittern, Denver Water Summit County liaison, wrote by email. “That way, we’re able to meet our customers’ needs while providing locals and tourists alike with valued summer recreation activities that have a positive impact on the local economy.”

A standup surfer in the Arkansas River at Salida during Fibark, the river celebration held in late June. Photo/Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Where spring runoff has been something like average—and where it hasn’t

Spring runoff of the Yampa River likely peaked on May 14 this year as it flowed through northwestern Colorado. That makes it an anomaly in the precipitation-dripping mountains of the West.

In most other locations, the peak runoff—the time when the largest volume of water in rivers occurs as winter’s snow melts—more normally occurs in early June after temperatures finally warmed. This year looks to be more or less normal, despite a trend to earlier runoff in many locations during the last several decades.

“The Yampa did have an early runoff, and that was the result of the warm temperatures and below-average snowpack,” said Ashley Nielson, senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, when interviewed last week by Mountain Town News. The Yampa, she noted, will probably rise again in the next week or so, if not to the same high mark.

But elsewhere, the show is now, not a month ago. Peak runoff of the Green River was expected this week or next. It originates in the Wind River Range of west-central Wyoming. Unlike the Yampa, that basin still has a significant snowpack. That was also reported to be the case in Jackson Hole, at the headwaters of the Snake River. The snowpack there was 181 percent of average in late May, not a record but “up there,” in the words of one water official cited by the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Peak runoff in the upper Colorado River at its headwaters along the Continental Divide in Colorado was also expected to occur in early June.

Winter had wild swings: barren until late fall, then torrents of snow in December and January. Temperatures were unseasonably warm in February and almost hot in March. It looked like an early runoff everywhere. Then May turned cold and snowy.

What explains the Yampa’s aberrant behavior? Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver, said the peak snowpack in northwestern Colorado arrived about a month earlier than usual. That snowpack around Steamboat Springs occurred on March 12, compared a more typical April 10.

Instead of mid-May for the Yampa, he says that rafters floating through Dinosaur National Monument more often experience the highest water flows of the year in early June.

The Dolores River in southwestern Colorado on Memorial Day in 2009. Photo/Allen Best

Flows in the Animas River through Silverton and Durango have had some “pretty wild swings,” Wetlaufer says. The Arkansas River has been slow to get started with runoff.

The Snake River of Wyoming and Idaho has a very different story than the Yampa, with around 200 percent of snowpack this year. The Snake originates in Jackson Hole and picks up water from the Big Wood River, which originates in the Sawtooth Mountains above Ketchum and Sun Valley, before joining the Columbia at the Idaho-Washington border.

“My takeaway is that this year is pretty normal” in terms of timing, says Bruce Anderson, the senior hydrologist at the Northwest River Forecast Center, in Portland, Ore. It was cooler and wetter in spring, but the big story was the amount of precipitation that fell during winter. “We are hugely above normal for precipitation.”

In the Tahoe-Truckee area of California’s Sierra Nevada, the snowpack was among the deeper ones on record after three bad drought years and then a so-so winter in 2015-16. Snowfall this winter was not a record, but it was a record for total precipitation. Being somewhat lower and closer to the coast than Colorado, the Sierra Nevada gets more rain during winter. This year it got a lot of rain.

Colorado, too, had rain on snow, which is not unprecedented. But it happened frequently this winter. The result was telling for travelers on I-70 who crossing Vail Pass.

“In general, there was less snow than you would expect,” says Klaus Wolter, a research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder.

Were those rain on snow storms of this past winter a result of accumulating greenhouse gas emissions? Wolter told Mountain Town News that thinks this is “probably partially climate change.”

Wolter, whose focus is empirical climate research, using statistical methods to solve climate problems, is reluctant to pin climate change on much of what we have seen this year. True, he says, one storm during May left 42 inches of fresh snow in the foothills above Boulder, a storm unprecedented since the 1920s. As extreme as that storm was, proving causality is difficult, he says.

A scientist in Oregon also shared the difficulty of proving causality. John Stevenson of Oregon State University told the Idaho Mountain Express in Ketchum that it’s “really difficult to judge any one year” to be a result of rising global temperatures.

“That’s one of the challenges we run into in the science world where people say, ‘Oh, it’s climate change.’ We’re not at the point where we can take any one random event and say it’s climate change.”

That said, his 2015 study concluded that the point each spring when half of the water year’s streamflow had run off was occurring an average 1.9 days earlier per decade.

But more extreme events are happening with greater frequency, said Mark Davidson, director of conservation initiatives with The Nature Conservancy. He pointed out that the Big Wood River has had two 100-year floods in the last 15 years.

Warm temperatures in the Ketchum and Sun Valley area were 6 to 13 degrees warmer than normal for early May, producing a flood in the Big Wood River that peaked on May 8. It was regarded as the largest in 101 years of recorded history, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.

But more warm weather was producing another surge in early June that threatened to surpass that peak of a month before, the newspaper reported last week.

Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic Tournament targets smallmouth bass and northern pike

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

From WesternSlopeNow.com (Rebecca Hykin):

The four native fish involved with the program are the Colorado Pikeminnow, Bonytail, Humpback Chub, and Razorback Sucker. As these unique fish are found only in this part of the world, the Colorado River Basin, the decline is due to the loss in habitat and several non-native fish species preying on them, including Small Mouth Bass, Northern Pike, and Walleye.

“The fish that we’re trying to remove compete for resources with the native fish as well as they are predatorial fish and they’ll eat the native fish as well,” said Tory Eyre, Aquatic Biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).

These non-native fish are coming into these native fish habitats from reservoirs overflowing and from a way that is a bit more unorthodox.

“People are moving live fish from one body of water to another and that is illegal on the West Slope of Colorado, and when we have folks that are doing that, it results in a lot of our time and dollars to try to eradicate those species from areas in places that we don’t want them to be,” said Lori Martin, Senior Aquatic Biologist with CPW.

Eyre explained the various instinctive recover efforts helping to save these native fish, “we propagate fish so we raise fish in hatcheries and stock them. We alter habitat [and] try to alter flows. Then our involvement is with the non-native removal.”

Eyre added, “We placed gill nets in the backwaters that are a certain mesh size that targets the Northern Pike and we try to catch them in while they are entering the backwater to spawn.”

CPW has also worked with other program partners to install spillway screens in reservoirs at Elkhead and Highline Lake State Parks to prevent non-native fish from escaping into the Yampa and Colorado Rivers.

“It allows us to stock warm water fish that are okay with the recovery program into Highline Lake and the purpose of it is to keep those fish in the lake and not allow them to get in the Colorado River,” said Alan Martinez, Park Manager for Highline Lake State Park.

However, those with the initiative have been running into a small issue as the recovery program is controversial for some people. Eyre explained, “Small Mouth Bass and Northern Pike are sport fish…people like to catch them.”

As this is upsetting to some anglers, CPW has been working with the program’s agencies, and with anglers, to address their frustrations.

“We’re trying to provide opportunities for anglers for similar species in waters or areas where there is no interaction with native fish,” said Martin.

To encourage involvement by the angling public, CPW is sponsoring the Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic Tournament from June 24-July 2 in Craig.

“The aim is to have anglers help us remove small mouth bass and northern pike so we that can better provide a compatible sport fishery that’s in line with endangered fish recovery efforts downstream,” said Martin.

With all of the efforts in helping to reduce the non-native fish to increase the native fish populations, CPW officials say some improvements with some species have already been made in some locations along the Western Slope.

“This is kind of our one chance to recovery these species. They’re not found anywhere else, so if they’re gone, then they’re gone, and they’re gone forever,” said Eyre.

Elkhead Reservoir

Trout Unlimited hails Long Draw settlement and native trout benefits


From Colorado Trout Unlimited (Jeff Florence):

Agreement includes largest native trout restoration in Colorado history

The U.S. Forest Service this week finalized a litigation settlement that will allow the Water Supply and Storage Company, a northern Colorado ditch company, to continue to use Long Draw Reservoir on the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forests, and will launch a large-scale native trout restoration program for the Cache la Poudre river headwaters within the Forests, including the Neota and Comanche Peaks Wilderness Areas, as well as in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Completion of all project elements is expected to take more than 10 years, but when completed will provide for a connected “metapopulation” of trout across the watershed – the largest such restored native trout habitat in Colorado. The native trout restoration project will span more than 40 miles of connected river and multiple lakes, as well as Long Draw Reservoir itself. To protect the watershed from invasion by non-native species, fish barriers will be established on the Grand Ditch and on the mainstem Cache la Poudre below its confluence with La Poudre Pass Creek. Within the watershed, temporary barriers will also be installed to enable fishery biologists to complete restoration of native trout one section of the basin at a time. After installing temporary barriers, biologists will remove non-native fish from the upstream areas. Once the areas are confirmed to be free of non-native trout, they will be re-stocked with native greenback cutthroat trout. Work will be done in collaboration with the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain National Park, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Colorado Trout Unlimited.

Under the settlement, a trust will be established with $1.25 million from the Water Supply and Storage Company for purposes of funding these restoration activities. Colorado Trout Unlimited will serve as the Trustee, while the U.S. Forest Service will be the lead agency for project implementation.

David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, issued the following statement:

“The settlement finalized today is a great example of how open dialogue and a spirit of cooperation can yield conservation solutions. After years of litigation and debate, the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Water Supply and Storage Company, and Trout Unlimited have agreed to launch a collaborative restoration project for Colorado’s state fish, the greenback cutthroat trout, which will be the largest native trout restoration effort in Colorado history.

“Over the next decade, we will be restoring a true Colorado native to the Cache la Poudre headwaters in spectacular alpine wilderness within both Rocky Mountain National Park and the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests. The watershed will be a stronghold for native trout, helping secure this piece of Colorado’s natural heritage for generations to come.

“We are pleased that settlement efforts enabled all the parties to find a solution for the area’s natural resources that meets federal stewardship responsibilities, respects the operating needs and challenges of long-standing water users, and achieves meaningful benefits for Colorado’s environment and the millions of residents of and visitors to our state who enjoy it.”

Keith Amen, president of the Water Supply and Storage Company said:

“We are pleased to have concluded the terms necessary for us to obtain a thirty year easement agreement for the continued operation of Long Draw Reservoir, a very valuable resource that contributes a great deal to the local, state and national economies.”

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Denver: Federal judge dismisses Water Supply & Storage Company lawsuit

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

A water-and-fish dispute that began in 1994 just ended. A federal judge in Denver on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit filed in 2011 by Fort Collins-based Water Supply & Storage Co. over a U.S. Forest Service decision about the management of Long Draw Reservoir and requirements to restore the native greenback cutthroat trout in the reservoir and surrounding streams.

Long Draw Reservoir sits below the east side of the Continental Divide, about 35 miles west of Fort Collins in the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest. Some of its water comes from the Western Slope via the Grand River Ditch, which traverses a section of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Water from the reservoir is released into La Poudre Pass Creek, a tributary to the Poudre River. The water goes toward downstream agricultural and municipal uses. The reservoir was built in 1929 and expanded in 1974.

That 53-acre expansion was the root cause of the ensuing fight. The original 300-acre reservoir was permitted under a permanent easement, said Dennis Harmon, general manager of the irrigation company: The expansion required a separate, renewable easement and permit.

In 1994, Trout Unlimited sued the Forest Service over an Environmental Impact Statement for the permit that would have allowed La Poudre Pass Creek to be dry during the winter.

In 2004, a U.S. District Court threw out the permit, forcing the Forest Service to start the permitting process over and include a plan to protect trout habitat and restore the greenback cutthroat trout to the watershed.

A deal to make that happen involving Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Water Supply & Storage was reached in 2010. But the forest supervisor at the time said the irrigation company would have to be responsible for full cost of the restoration project.

That prompted another lawsuit and more years of haggling. Under the new deal, Water Supply & Storage will put $1,250,000 into a trust that will pay for the restoration program.

Trout Unlimited will be the trustee. It will work closely with the Forest Service, the National Park Service and Colorado agencies to implement the largest trout restoration project in state history.

The work will entail building barriers in the reservoir and more than 40 miles of streams to block out non-native fish species. Once non-native fish are eliminated section-section from streams, the waters will be restocked with greenback cutthroat trout.

The project is likely to last more than 10 years, said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. It could cost more than the earmarked $1,250,000, he said, but fundraising and in-kind donations from volunteers and government entities should help get the work done.

Water Supply & Storage is glad to have the matter settled after so many years, Harmon said. It wound up with a 30-year easement agreement to continue managing the reservoir.

He declined to say how much the company paid in legal fees.

Nickum said the restoration work will be challenging, especially given the limitations on equipment that may be used inside designated wilderness areas. But it will be worthwhile for the environment and people who enjoy fishing.

And the greenback cutthroat trout – the Colorado state fish and a threatened species – will be back in it home waters.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

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.