Conservationists aim to keep rivers cool
State considering new water-temperature regulations to protect fishASPEN – A statewide conservation group is urging the quick adoption of revised temperature standards for Colorado’s trout streams and lakes, including protections for “Gold Medal” fisheries like Gore Creek, and the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers.The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission will hold a hearing Monday in Denver to review proposals for new standards that define the temperature levels needed to protect aquatic species. Colorado Trout Unlimited, a conservation group, will bring its views to the table; so will industry, water supply and wastewater entities.Trout Unlimited will push for new standards to be implemented immediately, said David Nickum, the group’s executive director. The proposals before the commission could take five to 10 years for the Division of Water Quality to implement, as it addresses each river basin individually.In the meantime, trout in some waters – the Fraser and upper Colorado rivers, and Bear Creek in the Denver area, for example – are struggling to survive, Trout Unlimited said. High temperatures have killed fish and made trout populations more susceptible to disease, said Andrew Todd, aquatic ecologist for Trout Unlimited.
The commission appears inclined to implement interim protections for the headwaters of streams and rivers, which constitute about 85 percent of Colorado’s trout fisheries, but the larger rivers, including Gold Medal waters, deserve immediate protections, as well, Todd said.The Colorado Division of Wildlife has designated exceptional trout fisheries with the Gold Medal status. Locally, Vail’s Gore Creek is a Gold Medal stream. Regionally, stretches of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers near Aspen carry the designation.For the upper Roaring Fork, above its confluence with the Fryingpan, water temperature can be a problem, according to Ken Neubecker of Carbondale, vice president of Colorado Trout Unlimited.”It’s usually in the late summer and usually due to low flows, as the water temperature warms up,” he said.The lower Fryingpan, fed by Ruedi Reservoir, is typically immune from high temperatures or sudden temperature changes that can harm trout, Neubecker said.
During the 2002 drought, the Roaring Fork was close to dry as it ran through Aspen, in large part because of diversions from the river. The Crystal River, too, can drop to nearly “bone dry” above Carbondale, he said.Diversions that lower water levels, the discharge of warm water from wastewater treatment plants and industrial discharges can all cause higher temperatures that can hurt trout, Todd said.The result may not be a large-scale fish kill, but smaller, fewer trout that are more susceptible to diseases, he said.Water temperatures have been blamed for population declines in the Eagle River, the Dolores River in southwestern Colorado and the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon on the Front Range, Todd said.”Probably one of the more spectacular rivers where we have temperature problems is the Eagle, especially between Edwards and Wolcott,” Neubecker said.
Some parties to the debate – Denver Water, among them, Todd said – have suggested new standards not apply where water rights are being exercised. Such an exemption would render the new standards meaningless, he said.”There’s still a pretty strong faction in this state that believes any water left in a river is a waste,” Neubecker said.A proposal backed by industry, water supplies and wastewater treatment agencies calls for temperature standards only if a stream supports naturally reproducing fish. That limitation doesn’t cover trout movement up and down a waterway and could leave stocked Gold Medal waters with little protection, Todd said.Any new standards wouldn’t supersede water rights, said Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited, but would make water temperature a consideration when new diversions, dams or other projects are planned, she said.
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