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Eagle River posted with warning signs

Cliff Thompson

Unprecedented low flows driven by the driest conditions in 125 years have led to warming of the river, stressing the cold-water loving trout population. That makes them more susceptible to natural diseases and less able to recover from the stress of being caught.

“Attention Fisherman,” the signs state. “Due to high water temperatures, low surface flows and reduced oxygen in the water, fish in the river are under extreme stress. Additional stress from fishing, catching, releasing and wading may result in onset of disease and/or fish kills.”

The state Division of Wildlife requests fishermen consider fishing at higher lakes and streams that have cooler water.

The posting is the first step leading to closure of the river if conditions continue to worsen. A 25-mile stretch of the Yampa River in Routt County was closed by the Division of Wildlife to fishing and boating earlier this month.

“Remember, this is a resource we want to preserve and protect for the long term, not just this summer,” the signs states.

Allen Czenkush says recent afternoon rains have cooled daytime temperatures and have slowed the rate at which the river is warming.

“(But) if you can fish without wearing waders, it’s probably too warm to fish,” Czenkush says.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission has established trigger points for angling restrictions.

– Flows that are 25 percent or less of historic averages.

– Temperatures that reach a high of 74 degrees Fahrenheit, or an average temperature of 72 degrees.

– Oxygen levels of 5 parts per million, or ppm, or less.

The flow in the Eagle River at Gypsum Tuesday was 142 cubic feet per second, or cfs, just 20 percent of normal.

Oxygen levels, however, have been 7 ppm or better. Temperatures have reached trigger points, but afternoon clouds have quickly cooled the water to the high 50s and low 60s overnight.

Readings have been made using recording thermographs placed at three different points in the river.

Fish biologists generally agree that when water temperatures are at 66 degrees, trout become stressed. Their ability to to survive is compromised if they are caught and released.

District Wildlife Manager Pat Tucker says if additional closures are forthcoming, they would be made after notifying local governments and businesses.

Forecasters are undecided if the summer monsoonal rains will be arriving, as anticipated. If they arrive they may keep the river cool enough for the trout to survive, biologists said.

The long-term weather forecast calls for western Colorado to experience normal to above-normal precipitation the remainder of the summer.


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