Volunteers checking streams for hot spots in Aspen, the valley | AspenTimes.com

Volunteers checking streams for hot spots in Aspen, the valley

Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesRoaring Fork River flows are low in Aspen at one of the check points in the Hot Spots for Trout program.

BASALT – Volunteers are being recruited to check temperatures in the Roaring Fork River and its tributaries to make sure the high heat and low flows aren’t creating water conditions too hot for trout to handle.

The Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy has identified 14 spots where it needs help monitoring water temperatures in its new Hot Spots for Trout program. The data that’s collected will be shared with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which can implement restrictions or closures of fisheries if conditions warrant.

The Roaring Fork River is running significantly lower than normal for this time of year because of the low snowpack and the warm spring. That has implications for the waters in rivers and streams.

“Less quantity of water – it’s going to warm up faster,” said Heather Tattersall, land and water conservation specialist with the conservancy.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is monitoring conditions on rivers around the state. It has implemented a “voluntary closure” on a stretch of the Yampa River through Steamboat Springs. It’s asking anglers to avoid fishing the White River in northwest Colorado except during cool morning hours.

No restrictions have been placed on streams or rivers in the Roaring Fork Valley at this point, though wildlife officers are monitoring flows, temperatures and oxygen levels, said Mike Porras, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The water temperature has been recorded as high as 68 degrees on the Roaring Fork River, he said.

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The wildlife division typically doesn’t close a stretch of river unless the daily maximum temperature exceeds 74 degrees or the daily average temperature exceeds 72 degrees, according to the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s website.

Nevertheless, the wildlife division is urging anglers to take some common-sense precautions – fish when temperatures are lowest, play a fish quickly when caught, release it quickly and try to keep it in the water the entire time, Porras said.

Fishing is a big part of the Roaring Fork Valley’s summer economy. Stretches of both the Roaring Fork and the Fryingpan rivers are designated Gold Medal waters, meaning they are exceptional trout streams.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife doesn’t want any long-term damage to the fisheries. Its materials state that fish stressed by high-water temperatures can die even after they are caught and released.

Roaring Fork Conservancy wants to make sure the best information on river and stream conditions is available to make decisions to ensure the fishery isn’t damaged. It has a small supply of thermometers available and asks that volunteers dip them into the water for one to two minutes away from river and stream banks, Tattersall said. They are asked to repeat the procedure to ensure they are getting an accurate reading. They should record the time and weather condition and get a picture of the site. The information can be submitted online at http://www.roaringfork.org/hotspotsfortrout.

“How hot or cold the water is determines what can survive in it,” the conservancy’s website says. Brown trout adults prefer water temperatures between 54 and 66 degrees, while brown trout eggs thrive at 36 to 55 degrees.

“In the upper and lower limits of that range, an organism becomes stressed, meaning it could be at a competitive disadvantage for food and more susceptible to disease or, in extreme cases, death,” the website said.

High temperatures can also decrease oxygen levels and promote growth of bacteria and algae.

The 14 sites prioritized by the Roaring Fork Conservancy include 11 on the Roaring Fork River, starting at the Mill Street Bridge in Aspen and ending at Veltus Park in Glenwood Springs. There are two sites they want monitored on the Crystal River and one on Brush Creek near Snowmass Village.

Temperatures on the Fryingpan River aren’t included in the program because water temperatures tend to stay more consistent, Tattersall said. Ruedi Reservoir is controlled by a bottom-release dam, meaning colder water tends to be released, she said. However, Roaring Fork Conservancy welcomes reports on conditions on the Fryingpan as well. “It can’t hurt to know,” Tattersall said.

So far, 20 volunteers have signed up to provide temperatures, including at least one person sending observations from the Fryingpan River. Tattersall said they welcome information from all rivers and streams, not just the 14 designated locations. There is a box labeled “other” on the website where data can be entered.

scondon@aspentimes.com