Four fish species to be helped on Gunnison

A newly finalized decision on how to operate the dams on the Gunnison River above Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is expected to benefit the four endangered fish in the river, particularly during dry years like 2012.

The plan, announced by the Bureau of Reclamation, is the result of about a decade of collaboration by the bureau, conservationists, farmers and hydropower and will set up a regime by which a minimum amount of water will be kept flowing around dams at Blue Mesa, Morrow Point and Crystal dams to enable fish to get around the dams via fish ladders as they migrate upstream.

The amount of water will vary based on conditions. In drought years, like the current one, the amount of water will be much less since there is much less to go around, explained Bart Miller, water program director at Western Resource Advocates, a conservation group that had worked with the bureau on the plan.

Flows will be highest during June and July when fish like the endangered Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail chub are moving upstream.

That water is expected to lift the river levels below the dams up to where the fish can try to make their way through the dams’ fish ladders.

Miller called the decision a “very good outcome” that “helps restore the balance in the Gunnison River” between protecting fish and the environment and meeting human uses.

The best conservation outcome would be to remove the dams, he noted, but “once you’ve got a dam in place you can use it as a benefit. This is a good use of those reservoirs,” he said.


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