Ridgway State Park smallmouth-bass tournament yields big results — #Colorado Parks and Wildlife

A CPW staffer measures a fish last month at the Ridgway State Park Bass Tournament. Anglers caught more than 1,400 fish during the month-long tournament. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Joe Lewandnowski):

Anglers who participated in the 2019 smallmouth bass tournament at Ridgway State Park, again, helped Colorado Parks and Wildlife on its mission to preserve native fish species.

For the fifth year in a row, licensed anglers caught hundreds of smallmouth bass that are a threat to Colorado’s native fish that live downstream in the Gunnison and Colorado rivers. A total of 79 registered anglers removed 1,498 smallmouth bass in the month-long tournament that ended July 27. Smallmouth bass are non-native and were introduced illegally to Ridgway Reservoir about 10 years ago. They are predators and could wipe out populations of native fish downstream.

“In the five years of the tournament we have reduced the population of smallmouth bass in the reservoir by 79 percent,” said Eric Gardunio, aquatic biologist for CPW in Montrose and the organizer of the tournament. “It is truly amazing what these anglers can do. They are participating directly in wildlife management in Colorado.”

Before the first tournament in 2015, Gardunio estimated there were 3,632 adult smallmouth bass in the reservoir. Adult fish measure six inches in length or more. Now it is estimated that only 763 adult fish live in the reservoir.

“We are making substantial headway in suppressing the population of smallmouth that were introduced illegally to Ridgway Reservoir,” Gardunio said.

The Ridgway tournament targets smallmouth bass because they could escape from the reservoir and migrate downstream to a section of the Gunnison River that is considered “critical habitat” for native fish.

“The work by CPW staff along with the help of anglers shows that through targeted management techniques we can enhance survival of rare aquatic species,” said John Alves, senior aquatic biologist for the Southwest Region for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

With assistance from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, CPW was able to offer $12,000 in prize money to tournament participants.

Chase Nicholson of Ouray was the big winner this year, catching 571 smallmouth and the top prize of $5,000 for most fish caught. He also won $500 for smallest fish caught – 3.3 inches. Nicholson tied with Tyler Deuschle of Delta for biggest fish caught, 17.2 inches they split the $500 prize. Second place for most fish caught went to Lawrence Cieslewicz of Montrose, who caught 283. He also won the grand-prize raffle for an additional $2,500. Chris Cady from Delta turned in 128 fish and placed third for most fish caught.

@USBR: The next Aspinall Operations meeting will be held on Thursday, August 15th, at the Elk Creek Visitor Center at Blue Mesa Reservoir. Start time is 1:00 PM

“#Colorado is the #Southwest’s water cooler” — Michael Cox #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Here’s a guest column from the Michael Cox via The Montrose Press:

All hell needs is water.

That iconic declaration could have been uttered by any number of famous writers, government officials and even men and women of the cloth. In fact, it was the observation of an undertaker from Prescott, Arizona. Budge Ruffner was forced to become a mortician when his father won the funeral home in a card game on Whiskey Row. Budge was a better philosopher/writer than he was an embalmer. He was a student of the history of this corner of the nation. And so, one of his books, published by the University of Arizona, carried this astute observation as the title.

For much of the great Southwest, from El Centro to Amarillo, and from Idaho to the Mexico border, one of the only things that ever really stood in the way of progress or economic stability was the availability of a dependable water supply. Sunny and dry with, in many cases, fertile soil, the desert only needed moisture, as is testified to whenever it rains in the desert and a profusion of flowers burst forth.

The Uncompahgre River Valley is technically high desert, even though a river runs through it. Early, it seemed like a nice place to live and the river valley soil proved rich. But the water came and went — it went more often than it came. Farming was a gamble at best. Often the summer months would see the river reduced to a trickle.

The solution came when one of those early farmers, Frank Lauzon, put forth the idea of a tunnel bringing water from the much bigger, and more consistent, Gunnison River to the Montrose valley. The longest irrigation tunnel in the world turned Montrose into a fertile place to grow everything from beans to a sweet corn variety that is now in demand worldwide.

But that is not the happy ending to the story. The prince is still a frog. And frogs need more water. What happens with water in Montrose and on the Western Slope of Colorado eventually affects places like Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Las Vegas, Denver and Omaha. Yes Omaha. That’s where the South Platte River, born in Colorado, joins the Missouri River. Omaha depends on the South Platte and the Missouri. Over here on the Western Slope we are the watershed that produces one of the most embattled, highly regulated and now overused rivers in the U.S., The Rio Colorado and its tributaries.

The Colorado River itself is born in the Rockies and flows in multiple iterations to the Gulf of California. It has not been a wild river for a very long time. It is damned at Glen Canyon, Boulder Canyon, Parker, Davis Camp, Imperial and Morales. On the way, 1 million acre feet (AF) go to Las Vegas, 1.5 million to the Central Arizona Project, half-a-million to California’s Coachella Valley, 4.4 million to the Imperial Valley, plus more to other municipalities, a dozen Indian tribes and other entities. At Morales Dam on the Mexican border it gives the last of itself, a guaranteed 1.5 million acre feet to the Mexican farm lands and Mexicali, Baja, California. The river itself never reaches the ocean anymore.

Colorado is the Southwest’s water cooler.

Here is the bottom line, when it comes to water in the Southwestern U.S.: We have it, they want it. It has always been that way. Colorado has always been the water cooler for the rest of the southwest. Without it, lettuce doesn’t grow in the Imperial Valley. Palm Springs doesn’t water golf courses. Phoenix or Tucson don’t keep growing. Believe it or not, they all care how much water Montrose and Delta farms take out of the rivers. Which isn’t all that much.

Agriculture on the Western Slope uses about 1.4 million acre-feet per year. The cities and towns use about 77,000 acre feet per year. There are about 80,000 acres under cultivation, primarily in Delta and Montrose counties. Those farms and ranches are a major part of the economy here. But, there are folks in Phoenix (and Denver) who would sooner those farms went fallow. That’s what causes concern for people like Steve Anderson, the General Manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA).

How much water is kept and used in the Uncompahgre River Valley depends on a staggering number of factors, the most important of which are the water rights connected to the land.

“We are somewhat insulated in that the water rights are connected to the land,” Anderson explained. “Those senior rights are federal, connected to the agreements made when the Bureau of Reclamation facilitated the Gunnison tunnel. The rights will always been connected to the land.”

That is important because under that arrangement, a landowner cannot simply sell his water rights to, say, a downstream entity.

The UVWUA, which has 3,500 shareholders (landowners), gets a constant 1,000 cubic-feet per second (CFS) flow from the tunnel, 24/7, April through October. To be sure, there are folks both on the Front Range and downstream who think that is more water than is really needed in the Montrose and Delta Valleys.

“There will always be pressure on areas like the Western Slope to cede water to the populated areas,” says Anderson. “When push comes to shove, the votes are there to change the rules.”

It is no secret that, while there is a big mountain between Denver and Montrose, there are those who would see water moved over the mountains to satisfy the needs of the growing Denver/Colorado Springs corridor. That is in fact already being done. There was a series of clandestine, closed door meetings involving those who control those diversions in which they deeply explored the idea of mandatory, non compensated curtailing of certain Western Slope water rights, to the point of creating a scenario that would bankrupt Montrose farmers and communities. Those secret meetings were outed by the Colorado River District, a public policy agency chartered to provide planning and policy guidance regarding the Colorado River Basin. State Rep. Marc Catlin is a member of the river district board. He is also a former manager of the UVWUA and a farmer. “My life’s equity is water. It is a big deal to me,” he has been quoted as saying.

There has always been the pervasive attitude among the urban entities who use the Colorado River, that cities are more important than agriculture, recreation and environment. It is interesting to note that water lifted over the mountains to the Eastern Slope may not necessarily wind up coming from taps in Denver. It could end up going into the South Platte system to satisfy guarantees to the downstream users in Nebraska.

But why is everybody worried about water and river flows, we just ended a drought? The Colorado snowpack reached a record level…The upstream reservoirs, like Blue Mesa, are at 90-plus percent capacity. Lake Powell, the master pool for all downstream withdrawals, is up almost 20 feet from last year (although it is still down almost 80 feet from a full pool).

The rest of the Lake Powell numbers give us a clue. The releases from the dam, with two months to go in the water year (October to September), are already at 100 percent of minimum withdrawal. According to the Colorado River District figures, the compacts that govern downstream releases call for a 7.5 million acre feet minimum draw down of Powell. The fact is, the lake has had a rolling average release of more than 9 million acre feet per year over the past ten years, several of which had well below average input from upstream. The sum is that only 4.5 million acre feet per year went into the lake over the past ten years and 9.1 million was released. The current wet year not withstanding, the river is very much overused, now and for the foreseeable future.

Coloradans cannot be complacent.

Insulated by senior rights, or not, the Uncompahgre Valley has vultures circling and they are thirsty. Big money and many times more votes make laws and rules change. According to Catlin, Anderson and anyone else involved, like agriculture water users and growing small cities like Montrose, have to be part of the fight to make sure the local economies remain viable with enough water for all uses.

Catlin campaigned on water as his main issue last year.

“It’s the biggest issue on the Western Slope,” he said. “We are in a drought, the Colorado River’s in a drought, and the Front Range and Southern California are wanting us to stop farming our land so that they’ll have water. I’m really not in favor of that because it seems to me that we are asking one segment of our society to change how they live so that other people can continue in the same way they always have.”

Catlin’s remarks last winter came ahead of the current improved condition. Even, so the issue remains.

The Colorado Farm Bureau ranks water as its top issue. Montrose County Farm Bureau director Hugh Sanburg said last month that dealing with losing more and more water downstream is a major issue for the bureau. Sanburg is a cattle rancher in the Eckert area at the foot of the Grand Mesa.

But, put agriculture aside, there is another facet that Catlin and Anderson both talk about.

“We are not talking about just water rights for farmers, we also are talking about recreation based on water,” Anderson said. “We keep shipping all the water to the cities and when those folks come out here to fish and paddle their kayaks, there won’t be any water.”

Is there an answer?

To quote MacBeth, “maybe, maybe not.” The problem is not unique to the Uncompahgre River Valley and the tributaries of the Colorado River. Water has always been an issue, everywhere. Range wars have been fought over it. Millions of hours and dollars have gone in long court cases. Predictions have been horribly wrong.

Anderson says a new water plan for Colorado is needed.

“It is going to cost a lot of money, as much as 100 million dollars,” he said.

What do we get for $100 million?

“We get storage, infrastructure, education and management,” Anderson declared.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, on which Anderson serves, has taken on the task. The draft of Colorado’s Water Plan is now public. The primary thrust of the plan is conservation. The funding for the project comes from a wide assortment of organizations from the Colorado Water Trust to the Gates Family Foundation. In all, there are 21 entities that have signed on for the project. In some cases there is reason to believe that some of those 21 have competing goals for water use.

Next week: The Water Plan and what it means for the Western Slope.

Michael A Cox is a Montrose-based content developer and author. He may be reached at mcox@burrocreekpictures.com

Aspinall Unit operations update: Gunnison Tunnel diversions = 950 cfs, Gunnison River through the Black Canyon = 2550 cfs

Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Ryan Christianson):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit were increased by 500 cfs beginning on Friday, July 26th and are scheduled to continue at that rate into the near future in order to prevent Blue Mesa Reservoir from overfilling. At the current inflow and release rate it is projected that Blue Mesa Reservoir would begin spilling, as the reservoir is now full. The current forecast for the April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 1,075,000 AF of inflow, which is 159% of average. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1500 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1500 cfs for July and August.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 950 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 2550 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

The latest “Gunnison River Basin News” is hot off the presses from the Gunnison Basin Roundtable

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

Snow Melt Promises to Fill Reservoirs

While it is mid-July, when you look to the mountain peaks, you will likely see snowcaps – another reminder of the extraordinary winter Colorado experienced. We saw huge storms well into spring and cooler than average weather which kept snow on the ground longer than usual. In particular, cold temperatures in April and May helped boost snowpack levels to record highs. The snow and the resulting runoff is filling the reservoirs across Colorado.

As reported on The Denver Channel.com, “The snowmelt boost couldn’t have come at a better time, according to Greg Smith, a hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. There’s a big sense of relief this year that we’ve kind of rebounded.” The forecast center’s conditions map indicates above average water supply forecasts for reservoirs.

Aspinall Unit operations update: 2150 cfs expected in the Black Canyon

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased by 650 cfs between Tuesday and Wednesday, July 9 and 10. This release increase is necessary to prevent Blue Mesa Reservoir from overfilling. At the current release rate it is projected that Blue Mesa Reservoir would spill within 2 weeks. The current forecast for the April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 1,060,000 AF of inflow, which is 157% of average. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1500 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1500 cfs for July and August.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 850 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 1500 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be 850 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 2150 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Joellen Fonken the new representative on the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) has a recreation background

The Tomichi Water Conservation Program involves regional coordination between six water users on lower Tomichi Creek to reduce consumptive use on irrigated meadows as a watershed drought management tool. The project will use water supply as a trigger for water conservation measures during one year in the three-year period. During implementation, participating water users would cease irrigation during dry months. Water not diverted will improve environmental and recreational flows through the Tomichi State Wildlife Area and be available to water users below the project area. Photo credit: Business for Water.

From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

A representative with a “recreational” background will replace the former manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD), who had been a board member for the last five years. Joellen Fonken will take the seat of Kathleen Curry as the Tomichi Drainage District representative.

Board members are appointed by the Gunnison District Court and judge Steven Patrick made four appointments to the board on June 20. In his order of appointment Patrick said all the applicants to the board were well qualified.

Patrick, along with 12th Judicial District judge Patti Swift, conferred and agreed on the appointments. The incumbents with no competing applicants were all reappointed and included Michelle Pierce, Rebie Hazard and Rosemary Carroll.

Curry is a rancher and was the incumbent in the Tomichi Drainage District, and was a previous manager of the UGRWCD, a former Colorado state representative and a local businesswoman.

Fonken is also a local businesswoman, as well as the director of the Gunnison River Festival and has served on several recreational boards including the Gunnison County Trails Commission.