By Dennis Webb, October 1, 2022
Efforts by a diverse coalition are providing a needed boost to a local stretch of the Colorado River that serves as important habitat for imperiled native fish.
The undertaking led by the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust resulted in deliveries of additional water to the 15-mile stretch from the Palisade area to the river’s confluence with the Gunnison River starting on Sunday. The extra water supports four federally endangered or threatened fish — the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, bonytail, and razorback sucker —and also indirectly supports agricultural water deliveries and the regional recreational economy, the trust said in a news release.
The supplemental flows, being released from Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt, were continuing through the week at a rate of 150 cubic feet per second, with the rate expected to drop to 100 cfs starting this weekend. The flows likely will taper off to 50 cfs on Oct. 11 and continue though Oct. 20.
Altogether, 4,500 acre-feet, or about 1.46 billion gallons, is being released under the undertaking arranged by the Colorado Water Trust and the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.
The recovery program seeks to keep flows in the stretch above 810 cfs for the benefit of the fish. That can become difficult in late summer and early fall, due to low seasonal upstream flows, combined with irrigation diversions that continue just upstream of the stretch into October.
U.S. Geological Survey streamflow data for the Palisade area shows that flows in the stretch fell to just above 500 cfs last weekend before topping 800 cfs by Tuesday.
The released water also is providing upstream benefits for fish, bringing flows in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi closer to their average and cooling water temperatures in the Roaring Fork River as the extra water travels to the Colorado River.
The water trust said that philanthropic and funding partners in the effort include the Western Colorado Community Foundation, Lyda Hill Philanthropies, Intel Corp., Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Nite Ize and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
“The corporations and individuals that stepped up to allow us to make these large additions to the Colorado’s flow are the community-minded heroes of this drought year. In the future, ever more creative ways will have to be found to share the water that Nature gives us, with each other and with Nature itself,” Andy Schultheiss, executive director of the water trust, said in the release. “As we continue to experience the impacts of a changing climate, we will have to find ways to adapt to the new paradigm.”
Between 2019-21, the trust worked to deliver more than 6,000 acre-feet to the Colorado River. Usually, it works closely with Grand Valley Water Users Association and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District to identify when there is available capacity in the Grand Valley Power Plant for hydropower generation, with water being released to boost generation while indirectly benefiting fish in the 15-mile stretch.
That plant is being rebuilt this year, with support from entities including the water trust, so this year’s releases are being made specifically to help the fish.
“We are extremely grateful to the Colorado Water Trust for providing releases to support endangered fish during another challenging water year,” David Graf, instream flow coordinator for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, said in the release. “These releases will improve habitat in the 15-Mile Reach during an especially stressful time of year. The Recovery Program has shown that collaborative conservation can enhance populations of endangered fish while also meeting water user needs.”
The Daily Sentinel
by Dennis Webb