Saving endangered fish trumps fishing on Fryingpan |

Saving endangered fish trumps fishing on Fryingpan

Scott CondonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

BASALT – Trout on the Fryingpan River might occasionally play second fiddle to endangered fish in western Colorado, federal officials said Tuesday.Representatives of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said they will weigh local concerns about fishing conditions when determining water releases from Ruedi Reservoir, but they made it clear an endangered fish recovery program is their priority.Tom Chart, director of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, said water releases from Ruedi Reservoir are critical to improving habitat for the fish in a stretch of the Colorado River near Palisade. Right now, using a variety of water sources, targeted flows in that stretch are achieved only 30 percent of the time. Chart said he was reluctant to “throw any tool out of the toolbox.”Chart and other federal officials visited Basalt after the town government, local guide shops and the Ruedi Water and Power Authority criticized their handling of water releases last summer. “They were unusual to say the least,” said Mark Fuller, director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, a consortium of local governments that operates a hydroelectric project and monitors Fryingpan Valley water issues.There were 23 days between June 1 and Sept. 1 when water flows on the Fryingpan River exceeded 350 cubic feet per second. That is more than usual, according to Fuller.”Last year’s flows were really unprecedented,” he said. “It’s not a question of us getting abused year after year after year.”Nevertheless, he sought some assurance from the federal officials that the 2009 performance wouldn’t be repeated. Basalt town government officials as well as fishing shop representatives sought the same pledge.”The Fryingpan is a resource of national significance,” said Basalt Town Manager Bill Kane. It’s not a case of “a few finicky fishermen” who are annoyed at high flows, he said. The river has an international reputation for its gold medal trout fishing waters. When flows reach 350 cfs, wading the river is difficult and anglers tend to cancel trips. Basalt’s economy suffered a blow when that happened last summer, he said.A representative of Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt said business was on par with 2008 in June and July despite the recession. But in August, when the flows soared on the river, business plummeted 25 percent.”August is a critical month for us – and I’m sure for the endangered fish species,” Kane said. “Isn’t there a larger set of values here that can be balanced?”Local representatives also raised concerns that high flows on the Fryingpan River in August might have detrimental effects on the health of the river and fishery. Flows are usually low in August in natural conditions because runoff has faded and weather is dry.”Are we endangering species in the Fryingpan River to save an endangered species in the Colorado?” asked Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux.The Fryingpan conundrum is a classic case of the Endangered Species Act affecting human activity. In this case, the Fish & Wildlife Service has a contract for water from Ruedi Reservoir and can “call” that water when it is needed for the endangered fish. Chart said Ruedi water is specifically needed to help two species, the pikeminnow and razorback sucker. Their habitat near Palisade has been altered by water diversions and fluctuations in flows of the Colorado River.Jana Mohrman of the Fish & Wildlife Service said releases from Ruedi and other Colorado reservoirs are determined based on a variety of factors, including the snowpack and reservoir storage levels. When the snowpack is high, like last winter, plans are made for high levels of releases.Last year’s planning was thrown askew when the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon reduced its call on water in the Colorado River for a dam inspection during August. That required more water from Ruedi and other sources. In addition, August was hot and dry so there was little contribution to river flows from precipitation.State Rep. Kathleen Curry, whose district includes Basalt, said the Fish & Wildlife Service should have altered its plan when conditions dried in August, requiring less water from Ruedi.”I know you’re shooting for recovery, but other people paid a price on the way,” Curry said.She suggested that the local entities, such as Basalt, send a written request with specific goals regarding Ruedi water releases to the reclamation bureau and Fish & Wildlife Service. Their formal responses would establish a starting point for future negotiations, she said.

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