The Colorado River is dying. Can its underwater dinosaur be saved?

To keep those Glen Canyon turbines spinning, Lake Powell needs more water. But without a major cut in consumption, the obvious solution to filling the reservoir is to steal water from somewhere else in the system. The Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River, which is also home to hatchery-raised ringed birds, is one of the few reservoirs in the basin that comes close to capacity, and is therefore a target for ripening. for government agencies to find ways to avoid other, painful cuts to water consumption.

Earlier this year, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that it would discharge 500,000 acres of water from Volcanic Canyon to try to stabilize downstream reservoirs. In the short term, those releases will be good for endangered fish species, says Breen, as they are timed to benefit the razor-sharp breeding cycle. But in the end robbed Peter to pay Paul. Green River water flow has dropped 20% since 2000, and the Colorado River basin has been oversubscribed for decades, with states claiming more water than is left in the river. Its main reservoirs have been drained as the winter snow cover has subsided. Temperatures were a record 107 degrees Fahrenheit in Salt Lake City this week.

M. Camille Calimlim Touton, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, said at a press conference in August: “The system is approaching a tipping point, and without action we cannot protect the system and Millions of Americans depend on this vital resource. . “Protecting the system means protecting the people of the American West.”

Meanwhile, the biggest ongoing threat to Colorado’s endangered fish are other non-native fish. Breen says only 12 species of fish are native to the Upper Colorado River basin. But now more than 50 species compete in the rivers. Many species are purposefully introduced to promote highly predatory sport fishing in a way that razors and others have not evolved to survive.

“Warmer, low currents also benefit invasive fish species such as smallmouth bass, exacerbating the problems posed by that species,” a spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service told. me in an email. “These small, non-native mouth bass spawn and hatch in the summer, as do Colorado pikeminnows, and grow at a much faster rate than native fish.”

The restoration program spends more than $2 million a year trying to remove non-native fish from the Green River and elsewhere in the system — a move not always popular with anglers Locals like to fish for sea bass. Breen said: “For the record: I love the small mouth bass. “I grew up fishing for smallmouth bass in the Midwest. But that’s where they have to be. Sea bass are very aggressive, and they are not allowed in that river. “

Smallmouth bass invasion has been somewhat curbed in the upper Colorado basin, but this summer, as the river dries up, the reservoir at Lake Powell allows warm water to flow over the Glen Canyon Dam and with it small mouth sea bass. To the chagrin of wildlife conservationists and managers, sea bass is currently starting to gain a foothold in the Grand Canyon, the last pristine habitat of the humpback, another native Colorado river fish whose status has been downgraded from endangered to threatened by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The presence of bass can undo all that progress.

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