Office of External Affairs
Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Mountain-Prairie Region
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

For Immediate Release

October 23, 2012


Debbie Felker, 303-969-7322, ext. 227; Debbie_Felker@fws                                

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Acknowledges Western Colorado Water Organizations for Help with Endangered Fish Recovery


1.	U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Technician Rick Smaniotto holds an endangered Colorado pikeminnow that used the fish passage in 2001 at the Redlands Water and Power Company Diversion Dam on the Gunnison River in western Colorado.  Photo by Bob Burdick, FWS, Grand Junction.
USFWS biological technician with endangered Colorado pikeminnow Credit: Bob Burdick / USFWS

LAKEWOOD, Colo. –   The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) recently acknowledged water organizations in western Colorado that voluntarily worked with the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program (Recovery Program) throughout this extremely dry summer to balance human water demand with the needs of endangered fish in the Colorado and Gunnison rivers.

On the Colorado River, three privately owned water organizations managed scarce water supplies to meet their customers’ needs while trying to achieve flow targets to support recovery of endangered Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail and humpback chub in 15 miles of critical habitat from Palisade, Colo., to the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers (the 15-Mile Reach.)

As flows dropped quickly in June, the Service realized that meeting the recommended dry year flow target for endangered fish of 810 cubic feet per second (cfs) at Palisade would be impossible. Grand Valley and upstream water managers worked cooperatively to try to reach the Services’ flow target.  Despite severe drought conditions, water managers maintained an average flow of 500 cfs this summer.  During the drought of 2002, flows in the 15-Mile Reach averaged only 171cfs.  

The Orchard Mesa Irrigation District (OMID) strategically operated the check structure in the Grand Valley Power Plant discharge canal to make this water available for the Grand Valley Irrigation Company (GVIC) thereby preserving stored water in Green Mountain Reservoir. This operation benefitted all Colorado River water users in the state of Colorado and better positioned the reservoir to respond to continued drought conditions in 2013 should the drought persist.

““A lot of credit for having water available in western Colorado this year goes to having storage reservoirs available with skilled operators who managed flows as well as could be expected given the drought conditions,” said Max Schmidt, OMID manager.  “Excellent communication, cooperation and knowledge of the system kept us all going.”

OMID also continued work with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Bureau of Reclamation to implement the OMID Automation Project.  When completed in 2015, the project will conserve water to meet human needs during periods of drought and improve instream flows for endangered fish, water quality and river recreation.

“Completion of the canal automation project will improve water supply reliability for all Colorado River water users and enhance the ability to maintain instream flows to benefit endangered fishes,” said Steve Guertin, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain-Prairie Regional Director.

The Grand Valley Irrigation Company (GVIC) took advantage of low flows to remove a cobble bar in the river that prevented operation of a fish screen that was deposited during the high flows of 2011.  Constructed in 2002, the screen prevents fish from becoming trapped in the irrigation canal.

The Grand Valley Water Users Association (GVWUA) has operated a fish passage at the Grand Valley Project Diversion Dam since 2004 and a fish screen on its irrigation canal since 2007.   Although low flows made it difficult to operate the fish passage this year, GVWUA operated its fish screen intermittently as conditions allowed.

“Despite severe drought conditions this year, the Grand Valley Water Users Association managed to continue operation of the fish screen which minimizes mortality of endangered fishes,” Guertin said.  “Operating the screen during periods of extremely low river flow is vitally important, as a larger percentage of the river is being diverted compared to periods of more normal river flows.”

GVWUA also operated the Grand Valley Water Management Project, a collaborative project with the Recovery Program that improves the efficiency of the canal system to conserve water for human and environmental uses.

The Palisade Irrigation District took advantage of the low flows to repair extensive damage to the fish passage at Price-Stubb Diversion Dam caused by last year’s extremely high flows.  The passage, which became operational in 2008, allows endangered fish to move freely up and down the Colorado River.

On the Gunnison River, the Bureau of Reclamation’s reoperation of the Aspinall Unit (consisting of Blue Mesa, Morrow Point and Crystal dams and reservoirs) for endangered fish enabled the Redlands Water and Power Company to operate its fish passage and fish screen from April through September.  As of early August, more than 9,000 fish had used the passage. Of those, 90 percent were native fish including 10 endangered Colorado pikeminnow.  The fish screen, which became operational in 2005, prevented endangered and other fish from becoming trapped and killed in the Redlands Diversion Canal.  The fish passage at Redlands Diversion Dam was the first passage for endangered fish constructed in western Colorado and became operational in 1996.

“After two decades of effort by Recovery Program partners to construct these fish screens, fish passages and water management facilities, it was gratifying to see all water users working together collaboratively to minimize the impacts of the extreme drought conditions,” said Brent Uilenberg, technical services division manager for Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area Office.  Reclamation oversees design, construction, operation and maintenance of these facilities for the Recovery Program.

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