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.
“All it takes is one boat that is infested with the species that goes in the water body and infests the water body. Once they get in the water body there is really nothing to do to get rid of them,” said Robert Walters, CPW invasive species specialist.
It is Zebra and Quagga Mussels that the crews are trying to get rid of. The boat they worked on came from Lake Powell, an infected body of water, and the mussels are apparent in many places that the boat has been in in the water.
“If these were to get into one of these water, the cost would impact everyone not just the users of the water but people using the electricity and facilities,” Walters said.
Colorado and New Mexico both are aggressively inspecting boats before they hit the water this season. It’s to prevent all the trouble the mussels could cause in pipes and infrastructure, even eventually killing native fish.
CPW said money spent inspecting and decontaminating boats is a drop in the bucket compared to fighting mussels after they take hold.
“We couldn’t do this without the participation of the boat owners,” Walters said.
The key is clean, drain and dry. All boat owners are encouraged to do that every time they take the boat out of the water. For boats in infected waters, both states require disinfection services, which is available at many major waterways.
New Mexico has rules in places that:
Require all watercraft arriving from out of state must receive an inspection prior to launch.
All watercraft when on a New Mexico roadway must have their boat plugs pulled.
Inspections stations for 2017 can be found at:
Navajo Reservoir (Pine and Sims Ramps)
Conchas Reservoir (Main entrance)
Ute Lake (North Ramp & Logan Park Marina)
Elephant Butte Reservoir (Marina del Sur)
Any NMDGF office (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:
The purpose of this first State of the Poudre River (SOPR) is to provide a description of the current health of the Cache la Poudre River (Poudre) from approximately Gateway Natural Area to I-25. The Poudre is a complex natural system that has been altered by nearly two centuries of human influence. This has resulted in dramatic changes to the physical structure of the river, water quantity and quality, floodplain, forests, and wildlife communities. The human footprint continues to expand, placing additional pressure (or stresses) on the river ecosystem and the natural processes that sustain it. This river health assessment provides the City of Fort Collins with a new tool to track trends and benchmark progress towards its vision of sustaining a healthy and resilient Cache la Poudre River.
While the Poudre flows 126 miles from its headwaters to its confluence with the South Platte near Greeley this study focuses on a 24-mile reach from the lower canyon through Fort Collins. The study area was divided into four zones (Canyon, Rural, Urban, and Plains) and further into 18 study reaches based on natural changes on the landscape and human influences.
Overall Grade: For the 24-mile study area the Poudre River received an overall grade of C. This grade indicates the even though the Poudre has been altered and degraded by a suite of local and system wide stresses that impair its health, it continues to support basic elements of a functioning river ecosystem.
The framework for this baseline assessment includes nine indicators of river health which are informed by 25 indicator-specific metrics. Collectively these provide a thorough evaluation of how well the system is functioning. Metrics grades are developed by collecting and incorporating many types of data, which were then translated into an A-F grading system. Indicator and metric numerical scores and their corresponding letter grades were calibrated to categorical definitions relating to degree of functionality or impairment.
Recommended ranges developed for each metric (as established in the River Health Assessment Framework, City of Fort Collins, 2015) and were developed based on the City’s concept of working towards a functioning river ecosystem. The recommended ranges consider the contemporary real- world context and reasonable expectations for future change and the potential for improvement. They should, however, be used as a guide and aspiration rather than a directive. Also, when interpreting results for a comprehensive scientific assessment such as this, it is important to consider that uncertainty and variability exists across scientific disciplines, data sources, and river reaches. The methods and grading guidelines provide an explicit description of the analytical approaches used and can help the reader understand this variability.
This report is structured to allow the reader to understand the project approach (Sections 1 and 2) followed by identification of potential influences, or stressors, on river health in Section 3. The health assessment scores (Section 4) reveal the ramifications these anthropogenic stressors are having on ecosystem condition. Results indicate there is considerable variability across aspects of river health as scores vary widely (from A to F) at smallest unit of measurement (metrics scores by reach). In Section 5, the focus shifts to an overview of river health, describing the link between stressors and degree and type of impairment for each of the four zones. Poudre River health indicator grades for each zone are compared to the ranges recommended in the City’s Poudre River Health Assessment Framework (2015)—to highlight areas where there is the greatest gap between the City’s goals for the river and today’s conditions. This section also includes an analysis of the causes of impairment and explores which problems are tractable to practical solutions. Section 6 looks toward the potential future applications and improvements for the project.
In their first-ever health assessment of a 24-mile stretch of the Poudre River, a group of Fort Collins water experts awarded the river an overall grade of a C.
In other words, the river is functional, the assessment’s authors said. But it could, and should, be better.
City officials aspire to a B grade for the river, which would mean the assessed stretch is considered “highly functional.”
The report was put together by a group of ecologists and resource managers from the city’s natural areas and utilities departments, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and several consulting firms. The goal was to develop a tool city officials can use to benchmark progress toward a healthier river.
The study focused on the Poudre from the lower canyon near Gateway Natural Area to Interstate 25 and used an A-F grading system. The spotlight was on six key indicators of river health:
Flows, the primary driver of river health
Sediment, a natural component of rivers that can be harmful if amounts are too much or too little
River channel, including shape, width and depth
Riparian corridor, including riverside forests, wetlands and grasslands
The overall grade of C “indicates that even though the Poudre has been altered and degraded by a suite of local and system-wide stresses that impair its health, it continues to support basic elements of a functioning river ecosystem,” the report states.
The river’s lower canyon zone fared better than the urban, rural and plains zones, scoring an overall B-minus with high marks for riparian corridor health, water nutrients and land and channel erosion. The canyon zone scored poorly on habitat connectivity and water temperatures, the latter because warming water temperatures represent risks for aquatic life.
The river’s urban zone earned a C grade with high marks for water nutrients, trout population and land erosion. The urban zone failed in riparian corridor health, habitat connectivity and river flows.
Overall, river flows were an issue for most of the 24-mile stretch.
“The Poudre is characterized by major changes in flow volumes and timing,” the report states. “Reductions have significantly altered peak and base flows, the effects (of) which are exacerbated the further one travels downstream. Diversions also cause unnatural fluctuations in flow volume, which likely affects critical habitat and reproductive needs of fish and insects in the river.”
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:
A cash-based incentive offered by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board encouraging anglers to catch northern pike at Green Mountain Reservoir resumes this year on May 25. Initiated in 2016, the reward program encourages anglers to participate directly in ongoing efforts to remove the illegally introduced predators from the reservoir.
CPW biologists say the presence of the predatory fish in Green Mountain is a significant concern. In addition to the potential impacts to fish in the reservoir, if they escape and take up residency downstream in Gold Medal sections of the Blue and Colorado rivers, sportfishing opportunities for trout could see negative consequences. If the predatory fish eventually reach federally listed critical habitat in the Colorado River, they would prey upon the state’s endangered native fishes – the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker and bonytail.
“Northern pike are aggressive predators with big appetites and if their population continues to grow in Green Mountain Reservoir, that will likely have profound impacts to local fisheries in the future,” said CPW’s Jon Ewert, aquatic biologist from Hot Sulphur Springs. “This is beneficial in several ways. Anglers can catch a predatory fish and earn some money, it helps us protect fishing here, and helps with our native fish recovery efforts as well.
According to the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, the presence of predators like northern pike and smallmouth bass in native fish critical habitat significantly increases the difficulty of delisting the endangered fishes.
“We all have an interest in making sure our waters are managed appropriately and we encourage the angling public to stay involved,” said Ewert. “We had excellent response last year, and we expect anglers will be eager to take advantage of this opportunity again this year.”
To participate, anglers must bring their northern pike to the Heeney Marina along with their driver’s license and fishing license.
CPW will keep fish heads for analysis, returning the body of the fish to the anglers. Anglers not wishing to keep northern pike can donate their catch to the Marina for later distribution.
Anglers are encouraged to catch and keep as many smallmouth bass and northern pike as they desire, unless special regulations are in effect on specific waters.
For more information, contact CPW’s Hot Sulphur Springs office at 970-725-6200, or Heeney Marina at 970-724-9441
To report illicit stocking or any other illegal wildlife activity anonymously, anglers can call Operation Game Thief at 877-265-6648.
On Thursday, the U.S. Forest Service announced the ban of motorized boats on Lemon Reservoir, which joins two other Southwest Colorado lakes – Totten and Narraguinnep – that were closed this year because of the threat of invasive species…
While some Southwest Colorado lakes offer a boat inspection, the Forest Service said the resources are unavailable to fund and staff an aquatic nuisance species inspection station at Lemon Reservoir.
Motorized boats in recent years have become significant transmitters of invasive species – such as the New Zealand mud snail, Asian carp and rusty crayfish, among other plants and animals – into uninfected waters.
But the main culprits, microscopic zebra and quagga mussels, can quickly infest a waterway, clog reservoir infrastructure and endanger other aquatic life. Costs to treat an infestation, the Forest Service said, are expensive.
According to the Forest Service, the decision to close Lemon Reservoir to motorized boat use was made after local irrigators, recreationists, the Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, La Plata County commissioners and the city of Durango showed significant support…
The city of Durango pulls its main water supply from the Florida River, out of a reservoir downstream of Lemon Dam. If mussels were introduced into Lemon Reservoir, it wouldn’t take long for the city to feel the impact, Salka said…
According to the water district’s website, releases from Lemon Dam, about 14 miles northeast of Durango, provide irrigation water for nearly 19,500 acres.
The Forest Service said a barrier and sign will be installed at the Miller Creek boat ramp, and the closure will be enforced by the agency seven days a week.
Invasive aquatic species, and finding the money for inspections, are increasingly becoming a problem in Southwest Colorado.
At Vallecito Reservoir, a popular boating and fishing destination 20 miles northeast of Durango, the boating season this summer was in jeopardy when Colorado Parks and Wildlife said it was unable to fund an inspection station…
As a result, businesses and community members dependent on the tourism dollars generated from lake users raised $10,500 to help cover operating costs for the inspection station, Beck said.
The effort was set to raise more, Beck said, when CPW last week said it could cover the remaining $43,500 needed to fund a full season of operation, which starts May 1.
Beck added that managers were forced to close boat access on the north end of the Vallecito Lake after several incidents where people illegally put their boats into the reservoir.
Beck said launching a boat illegally could result in a $75 fine, but the agency has “tried not to bite down that way.”
He said CPW proposed a bill in the state Legislature this year that would require boaters to purchase a $25 aquatic nuisance species sticker that would fund an inspection station program throughout the state.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
A Colorado Supreme Court ruling last year eliminated severance tax revenues for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s aquatic nuisance species program, forcing the end of inspections at some sites, CPW says.
As a result, CPW has agreed to close Harvey Gap Reservoir northwest of Silt to watercraft normally requiring such an inspection, due to the agency’s inability to conduct inspections there for species such as invasive zebra and quagga mussels. Hand-launched vessels exempt from the inspections still will be allowed there, including rafts, kayaks, belly boats, float and inner tubes, canoes, windsurfer boards, paddle boards and sailboards.
Hand-launched boats with electric motors will be allowed there, but gas- or diesel-powered engines will be prohibited because they are more at risk of hosting invasive species. The boat ramp will remain closed and all boats must be carried from parking lots or roads.
Meanwhile, the Cortez Journal reports that Totten and Narraguinnep reservoirs in southwest Colorado will be closed to all boating because of concerns among authorities responsible for those sites about possible infestation due to a lack of inspections.
The funding situation also helped prompt CPW this year to pass new regulations subjecting all watercraft, including those exempt from inspection requirements, to a “clean, drain and dry” requirement between each launch. The agency also requires boat operators to pull water drain plugs and remove plants from boats and other equipment upon leaving the water and before leaving the parking area…
CPW says it has coordinated a successful mandatory statewide inspection and decontamination program since 2008, preventing an infestation in the state. The agency says that’s of not just statewide but national importance, because the other primary way mussels can spread is by downstream travel.
The agency says oil and gas severance tax revenues are a primary source of money for the aquatic nuisance species program, but those revenues were eliminated by last year’s court ruling.
In that ruling, the state’s high court overturned the Colorado Court of Appeals and sided with BP America Production Co., finding that a company’s cost of capital is a proper severance tax deduction when claiming deduction costs associated with natural gas transportation and processing.
The decision affected not only BP but other energy producers that have been able to seek refunds on tax payments, reportedly resulting in an impact of tens of millions of dollars to the state. It also means they’re able to pay less in taxes going forward.
CPW’s efforts to shore up its aquatic nuisance species program may be in for some help soon. On Thursday the state Senate unanimously gave final approval to Senate Bill 259, which among other actions would provide $2.45 million to the agency’s aquatic nuisance species fund on the parks and outdoor recreation side, and another $1.2 million to the program’s fund on the wildlife side.
The measure still awaits action in the House, where state Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, is its main sponsor.
Earlier this year, CPW also suggested to lawmakers that an aquatic nuisance species fee be assessed on boats, at an amount of $15 for nonmotorized boats, $25 for motorized boats for Colorado residents, and $50 for out-of-state motorized boats.
Meanwhile, CPW said in its release that it “has allocated internal funds and worked with a broad partnership group to raise funds for the 2017 boating season and find sustainable funding solutions.”
It says it has sought help from partners including municipal water providers, irrigation and water districts, federal and state agencies and counties that would share the risk if infestation occurred.
Those partners have provided nearly $1 million in assistance so far.
However, the existing funding shortfall means inspections may be reduced at some stations, and a few lower-risk waters that previously had inspections won’t have stations in operation this year unless the state and its partners are able to find new funding.
Harvey Gap Reservoir is owned by Farmers Irrigation Co. and the Silt Water Conservancy District operates and maintains the reservoir and associated irrigation water delivery infrastructure. CPW leases the reservoir surface and manages its fishery as well as area trails and day-use areas.
CPW restricted boat use at the reservoir at the request of the water district…
Local CPW spokesman Mike Porras said the funding situation remains fluid. He said in northeast Colorado some bodies of water were able to keep inspection stations after local water districts agreed to fund them for the short term. Porras recommends that before trying to go boating at any specific location, people call that location or check the agency’s website, http://www.cpw.state.co.us, to see what restrictions may apply.
Here’s a report about Vallecito Reservoir from Carole McWilliams writing in The Pine River Times. Here’s an excerpt:
Boating access at Vallecito and other Colorado lakes might be threatened by state budget issues.
Jim Schank from the Vallecito Sporting and Conservation Association told the Times, “There’s no money for zebra mussel inspections on lakes in the area.”
The Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife has been in charge of inspections to prevent introduction of invasive zebra and quagga mussels into clean lakes. People bring boats that have been in infested water, such as Lake Powell, and the mussels can reproduce prolifically and clog pumps, pipes, and other structures.
The Sporting and Conservation Association took over operation of the Vallecito marina two summers ago after the previous private operator pulled out and no other private operator wanted to take it over…
Park and Wildlife “will match what we raise,” Schank said. “Right now it would be Friday to Sunday to have the boat ramp open. There are a lot of people here that rely on that.”
He urged people to contact state legislators about this.
Durango Parks and Wildlife Office spokesman Joe Lewandowski told the Times his department isn’t definite what sort of match DPW might provide…
DPW is working with irrigation, water, and recreation districts around the state to find a solution, Lewandowski said. “Vallecito isn’t the only lake affected. It’s lakes all over the state. … It’s a pretty major problem throughout the state. We’re as concerned about it as anybody else, to make sure recreation stays open.”
Pine River Irrigation District Superintendent Ken Beck told the Times that there have been a series of meetings with the Sporting and Conservation Association, DPW and other entities. “We’re trying to generate a fundraising campaign and let folks know that the money we received from CPW has dried up… It took 21 reservoirs out of funding for boat inspections.”
He continued, “Last year we had around $48,000 to fund recreation” at Vallecito. PRID budgets dam operation and maintenance functions separate from recreation. Beck noted that Vallecito is an irrigation project. In the past, PRID shareholders have made it clear they don’t want their assessments used to subsidize recreation.
The goal is to get $48,000 for this year if local fundraising can bring in $24,000, and hope DPW can match it, Beck said.
He is sending solicitation letters to individuals and entities that could be affected by a lack of boating access.
“We’ll continue to meet,” Beck said. “We’ll fund it and have the lake open. If we don’t receive anything, there will be significant impacts.”
“We have a clean reservoir now,” he said, but noted there have been boats at Vallecito that tested positive for the mussels. “We were able to decontaminate them before they went in the water. … It’s a lot easier to prevent infestation than to remediate. That could get really expensive.”
The Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. on Tuesday retreated from its boating ban at Narraguinnep Reservoir and agreed to allow some hand-launched, non-motorized watercraft.
The revised ban still includes motorized and trailered boats, including jet skis. Such watercraft can carry water from infected lakes in the engines, bilges and ballasts, according to the MVIC.
The specific list of nine non-motorized boats that are allowed on the lake include kayaks, canoes, rafts, belly boats, windsurfer boards, sailboards, float tubes, inner tubes and paddle boards.
“The board is in agreement on allowing those crafts,” Gerald Koppenhafer, president of the MVIC board, said on Tuesday.
Totten Lake, which is owned by the Dolores Water Conservancy District, also recently banned boating, but is also expected to allow the specific list of non-motorized boats, general manager Mike Preston said on Tuesday.
“The intention of our board is to be consistent with MVI and allow the exempted watercraft,” he said…
The boating ban triggered an outcry from the boating community, and generated complaints to the Montezuma county commission. Dozens of comments for and against the policy were posted on The Journal’s Facebook page.
McPhee Reservoir allows all types of boating, but trailered and motorized watercraft can only enter the lake through two boat inspection stations at the McPhee boat ramp and the House Creek boat ramp. The list of nine, hand-launched boats can launch from anywhere. Funding is available for boat inspection stations at McPhee but not other area lakes.
Irrigation companies and lake managers are trying to prevent the invasive mussel from entering Colorado waterways. Once a lake becomes contaminated with the mussels, they cannot be eliminated and cause damage to irrigation infrastructure, including dams, municipal systems and power plants. Mitigating a mussel contamination year-to-year also dramatically increases operation costs.
A decision is pending on how to prevent a mussel contamination at Groundhog Reservoir, which also is owned by MVIC.