@COWaterTrust, @CWCB_DNR, @Nature_Colorado enable Stagecoach releases to bolster Yampa River (again!)

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Once again this year, the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust and the Colorado Water Conservation Board are collaborating to arrange a release of water from Stagecoach Reservoir to boost lagging flows in the Yampa River under an agreement with dam owner, the Upper Yampa Conservancy District. New this year is the support of The Nature Conservancy.

Last year, conservation releases did not begin until mid-September, but in 2017, with the river already flowing well below normal, water releases from the dam were set at 10 cubic feet per second beginning July 11. But it can’t go on forever this way.

With this year’s release, the role of the Conservation Board, a division of the State Department of Natural Resources, has expanded to include committing to contributing up to $46,692 for water releases. At the same time, the CWCB will undertake the third, and final, approved year to release water into the Yampa. The opportunity cannot be renewed under current law, Water Trust staff attorney Zach Smith said…

This year’s program will forge a new relationship with the Nature Conservancy to carry on the effort when conditions warrant. The Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch just east of Hayden straddles the Yampa, and for 2017, the global conservation organization has agreed to bring $50,000 to the effort to purchase water releases out of Stagecoach. It will also explore sustainable funding for future years.

Smith said new efforts to bolster the flows in the river during dry seasons could range from seeking ways for the Nature Conservancy and the Water Trust to collaborate on locating new funding sources to perhaps seeking a water source with long-term legal protection.

Upper Yampa Manager Kevin McBride pointed out it’s only because there is a moderate amount of water storage in the upper reaches of the Yampa that mid-summer conservation releases are possible…

Flows in the Yampa have been supplemented with the participation of the Water Trust in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016. The Yampa was flowing at 128 cubic feet per second Monday afternoon, 67 cfs below the median for the date…

Water Trust water resources engineer and former Steamboat resident Mickey O’Hara said the return to healthier natural flows in the Yampa this summer “depends on if, and when the monsoons happen.”

Elkhead Reservoir fish barrier appears to be working as designed

Elkhead Reservoir

From The Craig Daily Press (Lauren Blair):

Installed last September, a net designed to keep non-native, predatory fish at Elkhead Reservoir from entering the Yampa River appears to be fulfilling its purpose, though it may be too soon to tell.

This spring, Colorado Parks and Wildlife conducted its first count of the two species of concern, northern pike and smallmouth bass, in the stretch of water between the net and the spillway, where water leaves the reservoir and enters Elkhead Creek, which feeds into the Yampa.

“In our first sample this spring, we didn’t see any indication that the net was failing,” said CPW Aquatic Biologist Tory Eyre.

The count was taken before the reservoir filled with spring runoff and water began spilling over the spillway. Another count taken this fall, after the reservoir is done spilling, will give biologists an even better idea of how the net is working.

“This is a big spill year,” Eyre said. “When it’s spilling, it can suck trees and other debris through, damaging the net.”

Officials are hoping the net, made of a sturdy polyethylene mesh, will hold up to any debris that gets swept its way, and divers will check and clean the net once a year.

The net is one piece of a multi-pronged approach to protect four species of endangered fish in the Yampa River, the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker…

The net will hopefully keep the predatory fish contained, but with so many factors affecting the species, biologists won’t necessarily be able to determine the precise impact of the net on endangered fish populations…

The life span of the $1.2 million net is only estimated at about seven years, Eyre said, which is why CPW is also hoping to check northern pike and smallmouth bass populations through its new, annual Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic.

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

Steamboat Springs: Stage 2 watering restrictions remain in place

The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

From Steamboat Today:

With the Western Slope under a NOAA heat advisory, the four water districts in Steamboat Springs will continue mandatory stage 2 water restrictions for the remainder of the summer.

“Conditions continue to dry out in our region, and we’re seeing hotter temperatures across Colorado, and in many cases, record temperatures for many areas,” said Frank Alfone, with Mount Werner Water, in a news release.

“As a community, we were able to get a jump on what’s shaping up to be a very hot and dry summer with the early implementation of Stage 2 in May. We appreciate everyone’s cooperation and their support as we head into the heart of summer.”

As part of stage 2 restrictions, home and property owners are allowed to water based on the last number of their street address. Even address numbers water Sunday, Tuesday and Friday, while odd addresses are set for Monday, Thursday and Saturday. There is no watering Wednesday…

In an effort to help reduce use of treated water, the city of Steamboat Springs Parks and Community Service Department is now using non-potable water for irrigation in several parks. Drawn from the river and other sources, non-potable water systems are utilized in Ski Town, Emerald, Memorial, Howelsen, West Lincoln and Heritage parks.

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

Meeker: White River algae blooms topic of CPW special meeting

Bloom on the White River.
Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife via the Rio Blanco County Herald Times.

From the Rio Blanco County Herald-Times:

“We’ve had an issue in the river (algae blooms) we’ve all seen evolving over the last couple of years that’s affecting some of the fishing and having impacts on water quality,” said CPW District Wildlife Manager Director Bill deVergie. “We are not saying there is one source of the problem, and this is not catastrophic at this point. We are not blaming any one person or industry. I think we’re all striving for the same goal: the health of the river.”

deVergie introduced Mindi May, CPW water quality specialist, who shared research done last year in 15 different locations in the White River watershed in and east of Meeker.

From March through October 2016, May’s team examined water samples in the White River, Coal Creek and Little Beaver for nutrients, major ions, suspended solids, macroinvertebrates (insects) and chlorophyll A. They performed algae identification at the Wakara Ranch testing site, where the worst of the algae blooms occurred.

While algae are a normal part of a stream system, the species of algae identified last year is of particular concern: cladophora glomerata, aka green algae, forms long filaments and is “difficult to get rid of,” May said. “It’s one of the problem children out here,” in terms of algae. “It’s a species that’s really good at taking up nutrients and storing nutrients for later use.”

Clark Fork near Missoula, Mont., has also experienced an infestation of green algae, prompting landowners, recreationalists and industry to form a coalition to reduce mitigating factors that cause the algae to grow.

Algae feeds on nitrogen and phosphorus, found naturally in soil, commercial fertilizer, manure, septic tanks and water treatment plants. The main byproducts of feeding fish are nitrogen and phosphorus, which has led to international concerns about fish farming causing water pollution and algae blooms.

“There’s lots of little sources spread all around. If everybody can do a little bit maybe we can get it under control. It’s going to be tough. This (kind of) algae is difficult to control,” May said.

The Montana coalition lists soil erosion and/or disruption along the riverbank, removal of natural riparian vegetation, buildings and septic systems placed too close to streams and application of fertilizer too close to streams or at the wrong time of year, among other items, as potential sources of nitrogen/phosphorus contamination. (Clark Fork Coalition Stream Care Guide)

While May’s research was limited to areas in and east of Meeker, Alden Vanden Brink of the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District said the problems are occurring all along the river.

“Something happened overnight that wasn’t there in 2013 that was there in 2014. It’s affecting the water chemistry. That tells me that it’s not necessarily a non-point source of pollution,” he said.

Meeker science teacher Dr. Bob Dorsett, who has performed water sampling as part of his students’ studies for years, said the problem has become more obvious in the last two years.

#Snowpack news: March precipitation below average in Steamboat Springs

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 29, 2017 via the NRCS.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Snow is more of a sure thing at Breckenridge at an elevation of 9,600 feet, with an 80 percent chance of receiving 1 to 3 inches Friday. Saturday’s accumulations in Breck are expected to be about an inch.

More snow could fall in the San Juans and the West Elk Mountains to the south. Intellicast rates the chance that Telluride will see 3 to 5 inches of snow on Saturday at 100 percent. Crested Butte, at the headwaters of the Gunnison River, has a 70 percent chance of 3 to 5 inches of snow on Friday and a 60 percent chance of 1 to 3 inches on Saturday.

Kate Gmeiner’s weather station, between downtown and the base of the ski area, confirms that precipitation has come in dribs and drabs early and late this month, with nothing but trace amounts in the middle of March. There was no measurable precipitation from March 12 to 24.

In spite of the dry spell that began here in February, moisture for the water year, which began Oct. 1, 2016, is still at 105 percent for the combined Yampa and White river basin. However, the water stored in the standing snow at higher elevations has slipped to 93 percent.

Much of that moisture fell in December and January, when the ski area saw back-to-back 100-inch snow months at 9,000 feet.

#Runoff news: Elk river streamflow way up with record #Colorado heat

Elk River near Milner gage March 21, 2017 via the USGS.

From The Craig Daily Press (Tom Ross):

“It’s crazy how high the flows are for this time of year,” Ashley Nielson, a senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City Utah, said. “I think we’re getting snowmelt at low and middle elevation and not at the higher elevations. But this is not something we expect this time of year.”

The Elk is still well below flood stage, but the acceleration of snowmelt during a time when snowpack is typically increasing stands out from the norm.

Flows in the river, which has its headwaters in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area northeast of Clark, hit a 24-hour peak of 1,050 cubic feet per second at 1:45 a.m. March 20, nearly doubling the previous record for the date, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The previous record was 524 cfs, recorded in 2007. The median March 20 flow is 160 cfs.

At the same time, the Yampa River was flowing through downtown Steamboat Springs at a rate of 408 cfs, well above the median of 150 cfs (in the 90th percentile range for the date), but significantly lower than the 1916 record for the date of 690 cfs.

High flows in the Elk have been driven by snow melting under bright skies and daytime temperatures in the 60s, which have dominated the weather throughout the month. The National Weather Service reports the high temperature in Steamboat reached 70 degrees March 19, but a cooling trend is on the way.

The Elk had calmed down to 896 cfs as of 9:30 a.m. Monday as it went through its diurnal cycle of rising and falling flow volumes. However, the River Forecast Center foresees the river will continue to rise to more than 1,000 cfs through March 23, when a cooling trend calms things down March 25 through 31 and the river could remain above 600 cfs.

A pair of snowpack measurement sites operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service confirm the record flows in the Elk are attributable to snowmelt above 9,000 feet, Nielson agreed.

The Lost Dog site, at 9,320 feet of elevation on the edge of the Zirkel Wilderness, has lost 3 inches of snow water equivalent since March 16, leaving it at 113 percent of median for the date. The Elk River measuring site, at 8,700 feet, has also lost 3 inches of snow water equivalent in the same timeframe, and snowpack there stands at 93 percent of median.

Nielson pointed to the Tower measuring site on the summit of Buffalo Pass northeast of Steamboat Springs as evidence that snowmelt has not begun at the highest elevations in the Park Range. The water content of the snowpack there, at 10,500 feet, has not changed more than a fraction of an inch since March 7.