Study hints at how important fishing is to Basalt’s economy
Pressure is mounting on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to manage flows from Ruedi Reservoir in ways that won’t destroy the Fryingpan River’s trout fishing or Basalt’s economy.
The nonprofit Roaring Fork Conservancy has joined the Basalt Town Council in calling on the Bureau to undertake a more thorough examination of the timing and magnitude of its water releases from Ruedi dam.
The Bureau is working on an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help provide water to benefit four endangered species of fish on what’s known as the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction.
The proposal favored by the Bureau would make Ruedi one of several sources tapped for the recovery program. A maximum of 10,825 acre feet of water would be drawn from Ruedi annually.
The Conservancy gave a cautious endorsement of that proposal in a recent letter to the Bureau. But in the endorsement, the Basalt-based conservancy stressed that the Bureau’s study had underestimated how important fishing was to the town’s economy.
Management practices that damage the Fryingpan fishery – such as the timing and magnitude of water releases – could have serious impacts on Basalt, the letter said.
“Basalt prides itself on possessing and sustaining an economy that is not directly dependent on the ski industry,” the Conservancy said. “Outdoor recreation on the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork Rivers and at Ruedi Reservoir is key to the quality of life enjoyed by the community’s residents and represents an important draw for tourists.”
The Bureau of Reclamation’s study contends that only a few businesses benefit directly from fishing and that indirect benefits have a larger economic influence. It also suggested that skiing was still the economic engine for the midvalley.
The Conservancy countered that fishing and outdoor recreation associated with the Fryingpan and Ruedi Reservoir play a much bigger direct role in the economy.
Direct benefits “accrue to any business that benefits from expenditures made by outdoor recreation visitors – which means hotels, restaurants, service stations, and retail businesses, as well as fly shops and camping stores,” the Conservancy letter said. “Thus to assume that ‘there are only a few businesses within Basalt’s economy which are directly related to recreation activities associated with Ruedi Reservoir, the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Dam, and the Roaring Fork River’ is inaccurate.”
The Conservancy hopes to finish its own Fryingpan Valley economic study in May to illustrate how important fishing is to Basalt. Preliminary data show that the 7.5 miles of the Fryingpan River that are accessible to the public draw an estimated 34,000 visitors annually, according to Kristine Crandall, Conservancy research and writing specialist.
About 71 percent, or 24,250, of those visitors hit the water between May 1 and Sept. 30.
A survey of river users indicated that 50 percent visit from somewhere in Colorado outside of the Roaring Fork Valley and another 16 percent come from within the valley, said Crandall. The remaining 34 percent come from out of state.
Of the respondents, two-thirds said visiting the Fryingpan River was their primary activity on their trip. An overwhelming majority were fishing.
Critics of the operation of Ruedi contend that not enough water is released into the Fryingpan while the Bureau is building the supply. The water flow fell to 39 cubic feet per second at times this winter.
That allows anchor ice to form and creates a swift, narrow flow of water in the river channel, according to fishing guide Roy Palm. Fish have fewer eddies and pools where they can hang out and therefore burn more energy.
When water is released for the recovery program – usually in late August and into September – flows increase above 250 cfs, beyond the level that is convenient and safe for fishermen.
To protect the Fryingpan’s fishery and Basalt’s economy, the Conservancy suggested that a key management tool should be to limit daily fluctuations in water releases to less than 25 percent.
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