Fruita's new grow-out ponds to help four endangered fish species

By: Taylor Temby Email
By: Taylor Temby Email

Ponds are popping up near Fruita, all in an effort to save endangered fish. Know More about the newly constructed grow-out ponds for these four species.

The ponds are part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the San Juan River Basin Recovery Program. The ponds are located at the Horsethief Canyon Native Fish facility near Fruita, and they'll be used for holding and raising endangered fish until they can be released back into the wild.

Twenty-two ponds now sit just outside of Fruita, where four endangered fish species will be calling these new waters home. Experts are hoping these fish will have a better chance of making it in bigger waters.

"[The fish] can get a little bit larger before we release them into the river just so they have more of a survival rate," Bureau of Reclamation spokesperson Justyn Hock said.

The pond project was designed by the Bureau of Reclamation, with the goal of growing and releasing the endangered razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow and bonytail and humpback chub back into their native waters.

"[The] razorback sucker, they're really one of the easiest to propagate and the one that we're concentrating on mostly through the recovery process with stocking right now," Colorado River fishery project leader Dale Ryden said of the current species using the ponds.

The ponds were engineered to pull ground water from the Colorado River, so the fish can be in clear, clean water similar to their natural habitat. These fish will be re-released into the Colorado, Gunnison, Green and San Juan Rivers once they’re grown and healthy.

"We’re making it [possible] to provide water to a facility such as this even in a low-water year like we're having," Ryden said of filling the ponds in a drought year. Ryder says the ground water is also beneficial, because the soil and rocks act as a natural filter. The ponds are less likely to have debris and other diseases.

Fish will grow for about a year in the ponds. Small fish will be taken from a hatchery before being put into a pond so they can grow larger. Eventually, some fish will live permanently in the ponds to breed others, and experts hope the fish will continue to grow in numbers. They say these fish have become endangered due to a number of reasons including from water contamination and non-native predator fish.

"We have lots of diversion dams, and so we basically cut their populations into lots of little itty-bitty pieces," Ryden said.

But now, thanks to these ponds, the fish have a second chance at survival, and we have a chance to save them from extinction.

"In an ecological niche, each of these animals has a purpose," Ryder said of the endangered fish. "When you lose one of those animals out of a system, that tends to cause a pinball effect that affects all other species."

The fish from these ponds will be tagged once they're released back into the rivers. This way, fish and wildlife specialists will be able to track their growth and movement.

The $5.3 million project was constructed by a local company based out of Cedaredge. It was funded by a number of federal, state and water use entities.

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