Endangered fish passage operations may be reduced due to low river flows

Due to the extremely low flow this year of the Colorado River, operation of fish passages on the river may not be possible throughout the summer and early fall, the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program announced Thursday in a news release.

Low river flows make operation of the following western Colorado passages difficult: The Grand Valley Irrigation Company Fish Passage, Grand Valley Project Fish Passage and the Price-Stubb Fish Passage, according to the release.

Fish passages were constructed as part of Recovery Program actions to restore access to important habitats for Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail and humpback chub, all endangered. The fish passages have opened up access to habitats that extends from Lake Powell to Rifle on the Colorado River and from Grand Junction to Delta on the Gunnison River, the release stated.

Although biologists believe that suspending operation of the fish passages this summer will have a short-term impact on the endangered fish, there is a real concern for long-term impacts if the drought lasts more than one year. Fish passages play an important role in the life cycles of endangered fish including Colorado pikeminnow, which have been known to migrate up to 200 miles to spawn, according to the release.

Officials say the passages are critical to recovery of the species.

On the Colorado River, the Grand Valley Water Users Association and Grand Valley Irrigation Company are operating fish screens in canals, as hydrologic conditions permit. The fish screens serve a dual purpose of preventing fish from entering canals and benefiting canal operations by reducing debris loads in the canals, the release stated.

“We have a history of cooperation with the Recovery Program that helps our water users and the endangered fish,” said Richard Proctor, manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, in the release.

The Recovery Program also coordinated with the Redlands Water and Power Company about operating procedures for the Redlands Fish Passage and Screen, located on the Gunnison River. The Recovery Program is working to minimize impacts on Redlands irrigators while continuing to operate the fish passage and fish screen as conditions allow, according to the release.

“We are grateful for the continued support of Grand Valley water organizations and other Recovery Program partners,” Recovery Program Director Tom Chart said in the release. “Working together, the partners provide flows for the endangered fish while meeting the water needs of people throughout western Colorado. This cooperation is especially important during times of drought when sections of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers have the potential to go dry.”

For more information about the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, call 303-969-7322, or visit ColoradoRiverRecovery.org.