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Sci & Tech

The Colorado River Is Dying. Can Its Aquatic Dinosaurs Be Saved?


To maintain these Glen Canyon generators spinning, Lake Powell wants extra water. However with out huge cuts in consumption, the apparent answer for filling the reservoir is stealing the water from some place else within the system. Flaming Gorge reservoir on the Inexperienced River, which additionally occurs to be the habitat for the razorback suckers raised on the hatchery, is among the few reservoirs within the basin that’s wherever close to capability, and thus a ripe goal for state businesses seeking to keep away from different, painful cuts to water consumption.

The Bureau of Reclamation introduced earlier this yr that it might launch 500,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge to attempt to stabilize the reservoirs downstream. Within the quick time period, Breen says, these releases ought to be good for the endangered fish, as they’re timed to profit the razorback sucker’s reproductive cycle. However it’s finally robbing Peter to pay Paul. The Inexperienced River water flows have already fallen 20 % since 2000, and the Colorado River Basin has been oversubscribed for many years, with states claiming rights to extra water than stays within the river. Its main reservoirs have been drained because the winter snowpack has diminished. It was a file 107 levels Fahrenheit in Salt Lake Metropolis this week. 

“The system is approaching a tipping level, and with out motion we can’t shield the system and the thousands and thousands of People who depend on this important useful resource,” M. Camille Calimlim Touton, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, mentioned throughout a information convention in August. “Defending the system means defending the individuals of the American West.”

In the meantime, the largest ongoing risk to the Colorado’s endangered fish is different, non-native fish. Solely 12 fish are native to the Higher Colorado River Basin, Breen says. However now greater than 50 species compete within the rivers. Many who had been deliberately launched to advertise sport fishing are extremely predatory in a means the razorback and others haven’t advanced to outlive.

“Hotter, low flows additionally profit invasive fish species like smallmouth bass, exacerbating the issues posed by that species,” a Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson informed me in an e-mail. “These non-native, smallmouth bass spawn and hatch in summer time, as do the Colorado pikeminnow, and develop at a a lot sooner fee than native fishes.” 

The restoration program spends greater than $2 million a yr making an attempt to remove the non-native fish from the Inexperienced River and elsewhere within the system—a transfer that isn’t all the time well-liked with native anglers who wish to fish for the bass. “For the file: I like smallmouth bass,” says Breen. “I grew up fishing for smallmouth bass within the Midwest. However that’s the place they’re alleged to be. Bass are very predacious, and so they’re not alleged to be in that river.”

The smallmouth bass invasion had been considerably contained to the higher Colorado watershed, however this summer time, because the river has dried up, the reservoir in Lake Powell is permitting heat water to stream by the Glen Canyon dam, and with it, the smallmouth bass. A lot to the dismay of conservationists and wildlife managers, the bass are actually starting to gain a foothold in Grand Canyon, the final pristine habitat for the humpback chub, one other native Colorado River fish whose standing had been downgraded by the Fish and Wildlife Service from endangered to threatened. The arrival of the bass may undo all that progress.

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