Oil pipeline breaks, nonnative fish and low flows seen as key threats to recovery efforts
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal officials say they are generally satisfied with the progress on recovering four native Colorado River fish species, but concerned that the impacts of the 2012 drought could result in some setbacks to the program.
Issuing a “sufficient progress”memo, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this week that, “with continued cooperation by all Recovery Program participants, the Recovery Program will continue to make significant strides toward recovery of the four endangered fishes.”
But flows are a significant concern, especially in dry years.
“The Recovery Program still struggles to meet flow recommendations in drought years. The Service emphasizes the importance of meeting the flow recommendation,” according to the memo, which also says that the Colorado Water Conservation Board has not yet provided a required depletion accounting report.
Specifically, the CWCB is behind on accounting for depletions in the Yampa River, and needs to “address projected future depletions and whether or not additional instream flow filings or other flow protections mechanisms should be considered.”
Pipelines represent another potential direct threat to the recovery program, the agency said, explaining that not all pipelines are subject to review and may not be required to install emergency shutoff valves.
Last year’s oil spill in the Yellowstone River showed the potential threat of pipeline spills from poorly maintained oil infrastructure. Staffing constraints mean that the USFWS has not even been able to identify the locations of all pipelines.
Based on the cooperative conservation measures that are in place, the agency said it’s likely that a jeopardy call on the species — Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub, bonytail chub — can be avoided, even when considering the impacts of new water development projects that could result in a depletion of an additional 4,500 acre feet of water in the Colorado River basin.
Any additional water development projects that result in depletions of more than 4,500 acre feet will be evaluated on a case by case basis “to determine if they jeopardize the species’ continued existence.”
The native fish evolved in the Colorado River Basin over millennia surviving epic droughts and floods and to survive in the river’s powerful flows. Learn more about the fish at this website.
As dams and diversions became ubiquitous during the 20th century, their habitat all but disappeared and numbers dwindled until the far-reaching collaborative recovery effort was launched in 1988.
Successes for the program include cooperative management of spring flows throughout the region during critical spring spawning periods, a continued push on nonnative species management, meeting stocking targets for for razorback suckers and bonytail chub and the first ever documented spawning of razorback sucker in the White River.
A main area of concern are low population levels of humpback chub, especially in the Black Rocks/Westwater complex.
From the memo:
The Service strongly encourages all Recovery Program participants to: 1) remain attentive to the lingering impacts of past drought conditions (and impending impacts of a very dry 2012 water year) which exacerbate human-caused threats such as the negative effects of nonnative fishes on recovery of the endangered fishes; and 2) continue to aggressively pursue management actions to alleviate threats to the species, including providing and protecting necessary flow and habitat conditions and preventing additional introductions and expansion of problematic nonnative aquatic species.”
In particular, the USFWS recommended that the recovery program must continue push hard on efforts to manage existing nonnative species and prevent any new potentially troublesome invasive species from reaching the area.
Addressing the larger issue of landscape-level habitat changes, including those related to climate change, throughout the Colorado River basin is also critical.
Some specific concerns include:
- Establishment of smallmouth bass in the Dolores River, where walleye pike have also been recently introduced illegally.
- Northern Pike and smallmouth bass in the Gunnison River, especially a “high density” northern pike population in Crawford Reservoir. In 2011, biologists captured northern pike in the Colorado River below Rifle Creek and determined that most of them had escaped from managed reservoir fisheries.
- Declining populations of humpback chub in Desolation Canyon.
Read the USFWS memo here.
Filed under: biodiversity, Colorado, endangered species, Environment, rivers, water Tagged: | biodiversity, Colorado, Colorado River, Colorado River endangered fish, endangered species, Gunnison River, Yampa River