Your Water, Your Fish, Your Future
by Melanie Fischer, Information and Education Coordinator
Colorado River Recovery Program
The Colorado River District has been an active partner in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program since its inception and supports this successful program. Water that supports your family also supports healthy rivers for plants, birds, and fish, including four endangered native fishes: bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub and razorback sucker.
Found only in the Colorado River Basin, these four ancient species evolved over millions of years to live in a desert river system. These “dinosaurs of the river” are part of our western heritage and a critical part of overall river ecology. Conserving these fish enhances the overall health of your rivers.
The Recovery Program is a public and private partnership that works together to bring these fish back from the brink of extinction. This program provides streamlined Endangered Species Act compliance so that water development can proceed as fish populations recover. Water development is important to Colorado’s citizens, but it can change river flows and temperature, and block fish migration. The Recovery Program uses science and partnerships to manage those threats and support fish recovery in a way that minimizes impacts to water users. The River District is proud to be a partner in the recovery of these unique fish. We and other Colorado River water users provide water releases from reservoirs on the western slope. This water benefits Colorado River fish in times of low water, fish spawning, or other habitat needs.
The biggest remaining obstacle to recovering the endangered fish is large numbers of predatory nonnative fish that now live in the river. The three most damaging nonnative species are smallmouth bass, northern pike, and walleye. These fish compete with and prey on the endangered fish. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manually remove these invasive, non-compatible fish from the river, but it’s not enough. We also must eliminate illegal introduction of nonnative fish (people moving fish from reservoirs to the river) and nonnative fish escaping into the river from reservoir spills during spring runoff. The River District led the Elkhead Reservoir Spillway Fish Barrier Net Project, completed in 2016. The Recovery Program and its partners have installed nets at other reservoir outlets on the western slope to prevent fish escapement. Nets are a temporary measure while CPW replaces non-compatible sport fisheries with compatible fish like trout, kokanee salmon, wiper, largemouth bass, tiger muskie (sterile hybrid) and triploid walleye (sterile fish). CPW also offers fishing tournaments at Elkhead Reservoir east of Craig and Ridgway Reservoir south of Montrose. Tournament anglers help remove non-compatible smallmouth bass, northern pike, and walleye. You can help recover these unique endangered fish by participating in CPW’s fishing tournaments and by reporting illegal fish stocking.
Your efforts to help native fish contribute to a healthy river system for the future. This means better water for all of us. For more information about the endangered fishes of the Colorado River, visit coloradoriverrecovery.org. To learn more about CPW’s fishing regulations on the Colorado River, http://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/RulesRegs/Brochure/fishing.pdf
The Colorado River District is an independent sub-district of the State of Colorado charged with the protection and development of the Colorado River and its tributaries in Colorado. The River District has been an active partner in the Upper Colorado River Recover Program since its inception.
A SUCCESS STORY: The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program were established under cooperative agreements as multi-agency partnerships in 1988 and 1992, respectively. Recovery program partners include the States of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming; Southern Ute Indian Tribe; Ute Mountain Ute Tribe; Jicarilla Apache Nation; Navajo Nation; environmental organizations; water users; CRSP power customers; Bureau of Reclamation; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Bureau of Land Management; National Park Service; Bureau of Indian Affairs; and Western Area Power Administration. These two recovery programs are recovering populations of endangered humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow, and razorback sucker while water use and water development continue to meet human needs. Actions of the recovery programs provide Endangered Species Act (ESA) compliance for 1,800 Federal, tribal, and non-Federal water projects depleting more than 3 million acre-feet of water per year in the Colorado and San Juan Rivers and their tributaries in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico. No lawsuits have been filed on ESA compliance provided by the recovery programs.
Elkhead Reservoir Spillway Fish Barrier Net Project – Completed in 2016, this project, led by the Colorado River District and backed by a unique partnership of local, state and federal agencies, including a diverse array of water, power and environmental interests, recreational fishing opportunities will continue to be available at Elkhead Reservoir near Craig, Colorado for at least the next 15 years.
Our policies in support of the Recovery Program:
Coordinated Reservoir Operations (CROS) – The purpose of CROS is to to enhance the peak flow in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River to improve habitat conditions for 4 endangered fish species. The Colorado River District’s Wolford Mountain Reservoir is a participant in CROS.