Local angler lambastes plan to use Ruedi for the Colorado
Roy Palm would rather fish than fight, but the longtime Basalt resident finds himself leading the charge against a plan to suck water from Ruedi Reservoir to benefit endangered fish on the Colorado River.
Palm believes the proposal by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will benefit a 15-mile stretch of the Colorado east of Grand Junction at the expense of 13 miles of the best trout fishing on the Fryingpan River.
The Bureau of Reclamation wants to use 10,825 acre feet of water from Ruedi Reservoir annually through 2012 to benefit four species of endangered fish. The plan will be outlined by bureau officials tonight at 7 at the Days Inn in Carbondale. A question-and-answer session is included on the agenda.
Palm, who has fished the Fryingpan for 40 years and owns Frying Pan Anglers, an outfitting and guide business, is rallying his fishing friends to attend the meeting and voice their objections or concerns.
“The biggest issue is the maximum and minimum streamflows,” said Palm.
Ruedi Reservoir has water contracted for use, and it has excess water. To make sure it has enough to meet its obligations and remaining water for the endangered fish on the Colorado River, the bureau is storing everything it can in this dry winter.
Palm said the Fryingpan River below the dam has flowed at 40 cubic feet per second for four months – the longest sustained low level he ever remembers.
He claimed that really wears out the brown, rainbow and other species of trout. Anchor ice builds up in the river channel because the flow is so slow. That leaves a narrow, fast-moving channel for water.
Fish don’t have pockets of slow-flowing water where they can hang out. They expend more energy than they take in.
In addition, Palm said, the ice buildup suffocates the invertebrates that form the critical bottom of the food chain.
“You destroy insects, you destroy the whole chain,” said Palm.
The low flow from the Bureau of Reclamation’s operating plan affects the Fryingpan from Nov. 1 through April 30. Between May 1 and Oct. 31, the agency tries to maintain a minimum streamflow of 110 cfs.
However, releases from Ruedi are increased from mid-July to October – the period when agricultural and urban uses draw the Colorado River down to dangerously low levels for the survival of the Colorado pike minnow, razorback sucker, bonytail and humpback chub.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants water from Ruedi and three other reservoirs to boost the level of the Colorado River. Releases from Ruedi in July can boost the Fryingpan above 250 cfs – above the level where fishermen can easily and safely wade it. The increased flows coincide with the increase in business for the season.
“I personally don’t think 350 cfs hurts the fishery, but it hurts the fishing,” said Palm.
The Bureau of Reclamation is preparing an environmental assessment on the plan.
“No negative impacts to the fisheries of the Fryingpan or Roaring Fork rivers have been observed due to endangered fish releases from Ruedi Reservoir made over the past 13 years, nor are any future or cumulative effects anticipated,” the draft EA reads. In goes on to say, “In general, endangered fish releases occur in a manner that does not adversely affect trout habitat in the Fryingpan River.”
The study also discounts that fluctuations in releases are enough to harm macroinvertebrate populations. It maintained that a winter minimum streamflow of 39 cfs and above is an appropriate level.
Palm and other observers of the study have questioned its credibility.
“They say we’re not hurting a thing. We know they are,” said Palm. “There is a bias in their writing.”
Palm was particularly miffed by a reference to Basalt being a ski town. The “predominant recreation activity in the valley is alpine skiing,” the report said.
“The Bureau of Reclamation is full of beans – Basalt being a ski town,” said Palm.
In addition to rallying anglers, Palm is counting on objections to the water release proposal from the Roaring Fork Conservancy and the town of Basalt.
Public comments on the plan must be submitted to the Bureau of Reclamation by April 29. They can be faxed to 970-663-3212, attention Will Tully.
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