Releases for endangered fish cause high waters

By: James Hopkins Email
By: James Hopkins Email

Mesa County officials are warning the river will be high this weekend as water is released from reservoirs in the Upper Colorado River region. But while it can be dangerous for us, it's an effort to save endangered fish.

Spring is a crucial time of year for many species of fish in the Colorado river, especially for the endangered ones. "Historically we had high in stream peaks during the spring when the snow is running off the mountains," says Barb Osmundson of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. This year's lower snow pack means weaker inflows which could endanger the habitat of four especially sensitive fish. But thanks to the combined efforts of many reservoirs on the upper Colorado river, these fish will get their much needed water. "Bypass the flows for the reservoirs and allow those to stay in the river," says Justyn Hock of the Colorado Bureau of Reclamation.

The coordinated reservoir operations program was established in 1985 to enhance spring peak flows in a section of the upper Colorado river that has been deemed critical for the survival of 4 endangered fish species, the Humpback Chub, Razorback Sucker, Bonytail Chub and the Colorado Pikeminnow. "We're releasing 1400 CFM so we can reach this high peak flow," says Hock.

Reservoirs are able to bypass the flows because of the past few years of "good" snowpack. The higher river flows help get rid of the silt that builds up on the bottom of the river. "The eggs fall into the spaces between the cobble that were once filled with the silt," says Osmundson. This gives the eggs a better chance of reaching maturity and hatching. It also increases the amount of food for the fish to eat.

It's not only these endangered fish that benefit from the higher flows. "That also benefits the people who are fishing and rafting on the river as well," says Hock. The reservoir release is planned to run through Tuesday next week with peak water levels expected to rise about two feet through town. A short inconvenience for some that will hopefully lead to a brighter future for our endangered species. "It's been shown that years following higher in stream flows we have more years of reproduction of our endangered fish," says Osmundson.

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