State mulls new river temperature regs | AspenTimes.com

State mulls new river temperature regs

Janet Urquhart

Aspen Times/archive

Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” A statewide conservation group is urging the quick adoption of revised temperature standards for Colorado’s trout streams and lakes, including protections for “Gold Medal” fisheries like the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers.

The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission will hold a Jan. 8 hearing in Denver to review proposals for new standards that define the needed temperature levels to protect aquatic species. Colorado Trout Unlimited, a conservation group, will bring its views to the table; so will industry, water supply and wastewater entities.

Trout Unlimited will push for some immediate, or at least interim, new standards, according to David Nickum, the group’s executive director. The proposals before the commission could take 5 to 10 years for the Division of Water Quality to implement, as it addresses each river basin individually.

In the meantime, trout in some waters ” the Fraser and upper Colorado rivers, and Bear Creek in the Denver area, for example ” are struggling to stay alive, according to Trout Unlimited. High temperatures have led to direct fish kills and made trout populations more susceptible to disease, said Andrew Todd, aquatic ecologist for Trout Unlimited.

“We need to have protective, interim standards,” he said during a Thursday conference call with media outlets from around the state.

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The commission appears inclined to implement interim protections for the headwaters of streams and rivers, which constitute about 85 percent of Colorado’s trout fisheries, but the larger rivers, including Gold Medal waters, deserve immediate protections, as well, Todd said.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has designated exceptional trout fisheries with the Gold Medal status. Locally, both stretches of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers carry the designation.

For the upper Roaring Fork, above its confluence with the Pan, water temperature can be an issue, according to Ken Neubecker of Carbondale, vice president of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

“It’s usually in the late summer and usually due to low flows, as the water temperature warms up,” he said.

The lower Fryingpan, fed by Ruedi Reservoir, is typically immune from high temperatures or sudden temperature fluctuations that can harm trout, Neubecker said.

During the 2002 drought, the Roaring Fork was close to dry as it ran through Aspen, due in large part to diversions from the river. The Crystal River, too, can drop to nearly “bone dry” above Carbondale, he said.

Diversions that lower water levels, the discharge of warm water from wastewater treatment plants and industrial discharges can all be human-causes sources of temperatures that are less than optimal for trout, according to Todd.

The result may not be a large-scale fish kill, but rather, smaller trout, fewer trout and fish that are more susceptible to other damaging disease, he said.

Water temperatures have been implicated in population declines in the Dolores River in southwestern Colorado, the Eagle River in Eagle County, and the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon on the Front Range, Todd said.

“Probably one of the more spectacular rivers where we have temperature problems is the Eagle, especially between Edwards and Wolcott,” Neubecker said.

Some parties to the debate ” Denver Water, among them, Todd said ” have suggested new standards not apply where water rights are being exercised. Such an exemption would render the new standards meaningless, he said.

“There’s still a pretty strong faction in this state that believes any water left in a river is a waste,” Neubecker said.

In addition, a proposal by the industrial, water supply and wastewater entities would adopt temperature standards only if a stream supports naturally reproducing fish species. That limitation doesn’t address trout movement up and down a water way and could leave stocked Gold Medal waters with little protection, Todd said.

Any new standards wouldn’t supercede water rights, according to Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited, but would add water temperature impacts as a factor to be considered in the event of new diversions, dams or other projects, she said.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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