High temps and low humidity cause numerous problems for water users, recreation and fish

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RBC | Officials with Colorado Parks and Wildlife are working to address a number of water and recreation issues across the northwest part of the state. As high temperatures and low humidity have fueled wildfires in the region, they are also causing significant issues for water users, water recreation, and fish. The following is an update on some specific issues:


CPW staff are continuing to monitor environmental conditions, fishing pressure, and fish behavior  in the Colorado, Roaring Fork, Fraser and Eagle rivers, and in other trout streams across the region. Trout are a cold water species. When water temperatures rise above 70 degrees, trout can become stressed. They may seek areas of refuge with cooler temperatures and more dissolved oxygen available as colder water holds more oxygen than warm water. Trout may be more susceptible to predation, disease, and stress during this time. Anglers are encouraged to avoid fishing during the warmest parts of the day until water temperatures cool and/or river flows increase with monsoonal rains or upstream reservoir releases. Unnecessary handling of fish during these conditions can cause additional stress, so anglers are encouraged to release fish quickly. 

Voluntary fishing closures from 2 p.m. to midnight are being implemented on the White River in Rio Blanco County and also the Colorado River in Garfield County.  Anglers should refrain from fishing from 2 p.m. to midnight on the mainstem White River from the confluence with the North and South forks at the Belaire Unit of the Oak Ridge State Wildlife Area downstream to Rio Blanco County Road 5 (just downstream of Rio Blanco Lake State Wildlife Area), and also on the mainstem Colorado River from Newcastle downstream to Rifle. These voluntary fishing closures will remain in effect until conditions improve. While specific closures may not be in place in other waters, anglers are asked to minimize fishing during the warmest parts of the day. Fish at higher elevations when possible or seek out cool mountain lakes for a change of pace. Avoid playing fish to exhaustion when hooked and keep fish in the water if you must handle them.


Warm temperatures are also fueling algae blooms in several northwest waters. Steamboat Lake State Park has reported an algae bloom and is advising children and pets to be kept out of the water in areas where the algae are present. In addition, sections of the  White and Colorado rivers are  experiencing  noticeable algae growth this year. Algae blooms can negatively impact human and animal health, create difficult fishing conditions and negatively affect water delivery systems. 


CPW managers are monitoring conditions for fish along the White River from Lake Avery downstream to the Rangely area. Lake Avery, also known as Big Beaver Reservoir, is located approximately 19 miles east of the community of Meeker. Water provided would be used to protect important coldwater fisheries in  the river. Water releases for fish have been used in dry years to keep river temperatures lower while also keeping flows high enough to prevent a “call” on the river  These coordinated releases through the Colorado Water Conservation Board benefit more than just fish by allowing river operations such as recreation and irrigation to continue in extremely dry years. Releases are a short-term solution, while cooler temperatures and rainfall will be a welcome natural relief. 

Through an agreement with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, CPW can release water from Lake Avery to help the Board meet their instream flow right of 200 cubic feet per second. The goal is protecting aquatic life in Big Beaver Creek downstream of Lake Avery, and the White River downstream to the confluence with Piceance Creek. The terms of the agreement allow for releasing 20 cfs for up to 120 days. CPW will monitor water-quality conditions and fish to gauge the effects of the additional water, adjusting the release from Lake Avery as conditions warrant.


Biologists with CPW are monitoring the area around the Pine Gulch Fire and Grizzly Creek Fire. While fire can have positive habitat impacts for big game species like deer and elk, it can create dangerous and possibly deadly conditions for fish. While fish are often safe from active fire, heavy rain events after a fire can inundate streams with debris, ash, and sediment making it difficult for fish to survive and reproduce. Toxins from ash and fire retardant can also negatively impact fish communities. Creeks in the Pine Gulch Fire area are home to several native fishes, including Colorado River cutthroat trout, bluehead sucker, mottled sculpin, and speckled dace. Grizzly Creek is an important spawning tributary to the Colorado River for rainbow trout, brown trout, and mountain whitefish; brook trout and cutthroat trout are present in higher stream reaches. Wildlife managers and biologists will be monitoring conditions in case action is necessary. 

PRESS RELEASE | Special to the Herald Times

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