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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

December 20, 1999

CONTACT: Patty Schrader Gelatt, 970-243-2778
Debbie Felker, 303-236-2985, ext. 227


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service achieved a milestone today with the signing of a final biological opinion on water use in the Upper Colorado River Basin where efforts are ongoing to recover four species of endangered fish. The opinion addresses federal and other water projects as well as recovery actions by the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. The opinion allows water development for human uses to occur while recovering and protecting the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail.

The opinion streamlines Endangered Species Act consultation for water users by providing compliance for all current depletions (averaging about one million acre-feet per year) in the Colorado River above the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers near Grand Junction, Colorado. It also provides ESA compliance for up to 120,000 acre-feet per year of new depletions. It further addresses fish recovery actions that affect the Colorado River, including the 15-Mile Reach from Palisade, Colorado, to the confluence with the Gunnison River. Specific checkpoints are included to ensure that endangered fish populations are improving.

"This biological opinion specifies how we will recover the endangered fish while allowing water development to occur in the Upper Colorado River," said Ralph Morgenweck, regional director, Mountain-Prairie Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Recovery actions include increasing the amount of water released into the river during certain times of the year, improving river habitat, constructing fish passages to provide access to areas where fish lived historically, stocking and monitoring the status of the endangered fish and reducing the impacts of nonnative fish.

One example is the Grand Valley Water Management Project. Included in this project is improving efficiency of the Government Highline Canal system. These improvements will help reduce the diversions of the canal system by approximately 28,400 acre-feet of water in August through October each year. When this savings is combined with other water management activities in the opinion, up to 100,000 acre-feet of water could be made available to assist in meeting flows needed by endangered fish during the late summer and early fall.

Established in 1988, the Recovery Program is a cooperative effort involving federal and state agencies, environmental groups and water and power-user organizations in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Its purpose is to recover endangered fish while allowing development of water resources for human uses.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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