Managers carefully massage water flow
Federal officials are releasing more water into the Gunnison River with an eye to benefit endangered fish while also ensuring that downstream areas aren’t inundated.
“We’re going out twice a day checking out the interstate and Connected Lakes” to be certain that the spring runoff doesn’t threaten Interstate 70 west of Fruita or residents and businesses closer to Grand Junction, said Erik Knight, hydrologist for the Grand Junction office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Officials now expect the Colorado River at Cameo to peak about 26,000 cubic feet per second.
Those flows, combined with flows of about 12,000 cfs from the Gunnison River, could push the river below the confluence to approach 40,000 cubic feet per second at the Utah state line, Knight said.
That’s about the level of the river when it last inundated the interstate west of Fruita.
That’s exactly what the bureau wants to avoid, as it tries to stagger the highest flows in the Colorado and the Gunnison.
The road “should be dry, except maybe for the bike path,” Knight said.
Bureau officials also are watching the water levels near Skipper’s Island in the Colorado west of Fruita to get a better sense of how spring flows affect neighboring lands, Knight said.
“We’re getting an idea of what the flows mean” to neighboring properties as the levels rise, Knight said.
Bureau officials are also trying to release enough water to benefit endangered fish in the Gunnison, particularly the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.
Sediment has collected in the Gunnison riverbed in recent years and officials are hoping that higher flows will scour it out, resulting in better habitat for those and other aquatic species, bureau spokeswoman Justyn Hock said.