Fish are holding up despite below-average streamflows
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Area water managers recently got an unpleasant surprise: Local streams are running lower than first thought.The U.S. Geological Survey has streamflow-measurement stations up and down the valley. Those stations need to be adjusted for accuracy from time to time. This year, those adjustments – especially on the Eagle River in Avon – brought news no one wanted to hear, especially since we remain in a severe drought despite decent rainfall in July and August. Streamflow measurements at that spot were significantly lower than first thought.The change actually answered a question Eagle River Water & Sanitation District General Manager Linn Brooks had been asking herself most of the summer: Why were streamflow numbers on Gore Creek so much weaker than on the Eagle?”It looked like the Eagle was doing better, but it was actually doing just as badly as Gore Creek,” Brooks said.The upshot of the news about streamflows is that district officials are asking residents to cut back on their outdoor watering by 25 percent. But, Brooks said, cutting back won’t be as hard on landscaping as it might have been in, say, June. A combination of longer, cooler nights, occasional showers and lower daytime temperatures mean it’s actually time to cut back on watering, Brooks said.In fact, she added, some local golf courses have already cut their watering in half.In a valley that depends mostly on streams for its water supply, less water in streams and creeks is bad news. But it isn’t disastrous. Brooks said the district’s water rights predate any environmental requirements to maintain minimum flows in rivers and creeks.But, Brooks said, the district is still paying close attention to fish populations in the valley. And with summer coming to an end, those populations seem to be holding up fairly well.There haven’t been any mass die-offs of fish this summer, Brooks said. Actually, the fish populations survived fairly well in 2002, the last bad drought year. But there was more algae in the water, and that robs oxygen from streams.Part of the reason fish populations are holding steady could be the care the creatures are getting from people fishing for them.”There’s been a real community effort about spreading knowledge,” said Joe Halovanic, of Minturn Anglers.Minturn Anglers co-owner Alex Rachowicz agreed, adding that he and other outfitters have been careful to fish almost exclusively in the mornings for most of the summer. After about 11 a.m., stream temperatures hit 65 degrees and it’s simply too warm to fish responsibly, he said.Stream temperatures will drop as summer fades, but there isn’t much to be done about the amount of water available until we have another winter and runoff season. Flows get even lower in the winter, and while there will be adequate supplies for people, Brooks said the cold months can be as hard on fish as a hot summer, if not more so.”If the flows are really low, some of the fish might not survive,” Brooks said.Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.