Water released from Elkhead Reservoir near Craig | CraigDailyPress.com

Water released from Elkhead Reservoir near Craig

Craig Daily Press Staff Report

On Thursday night, Elkhead Reservoir released water in the Yampa River to aid the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife announced in a news release.

"A relatively high volume of water will be released (about 350 cubic-feet-per-second) from Elkhead for four days to support a sustained flow of about 1,000 cfs in the Yampa River at Maybell, downstream of Craig," Fish and Wildlife officials announced in the release. "The released water will take about 24 hours to reach Maybell, and flows will return to pre-release levels at Maybell by Aug. 24.

"All releases will be made through the dam outlets that are screened to prevent the escapement of nonnative fish."

The reservoir level is expected to drop 3 feet during the release period and stabilize by the middle of next week, according to the release. There will be no affects to boat or angler access to the reservoir.

Each year since 2007, the Recovery Program has requested lower release rates of water (typically about 50 to 70 cfs) during six to eight weeks this time of year, drawing down the reservoir over a longer period of time.

The flows help provide better habitat conditions for endangered fish in the lower Yampa River during the summer and fall of low and normal water years, Fish and Wildlife reported.

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This year's late summer high flows offer a different way to help endangered fish, the agency contends.

"Higher natural flows this year in the Yampa and Green rivers should favor native fish over nonnative species," Recovery Program Director Tom Chart said. "This year, Elkhead Reservoir releases will provide a rare opportunity for our researchers to capitalize on the wet conditions to more effectively manage the nonnative smallmouth bass and northern pike, which currently pose our greatest challenge to endangered fish recovery."

In 2006, the Recovery Program funded $13.2 million of a $31 million enlargement of Elkhead Reservoir.

The Colorado River District funded the remaining $17.8 million and managed the enlargement project, which nearly doubled the reservoir's storage capacity. The cooperative project entitled the recovery program to an annual release of 5,000 acre-feet of permanent water and up to 2,000 acre-feet of leased water to augment flows for the endangered fish in the Yampa River during middle and late summer.

The additional water is used to meet the needs of people in the Yampa River Basin, Fish and Wildlife contend.

In addition to flow management and nonnative fish control, the Recovery Program relies on an aggressive endangered fish stocking program, habitat development actions and long-term monitoring to achieve self-sustaining, endangered fish populations.

"As the largest tributary to the Green River, the Yampa River plays an important role in the lifecycle of the endangered fish," the agency reported. "In addition to directly providing habitat, the Yampa River delivers flows and sediment downstream to the Green River, helping to maintain hundreds of miles of river habitat considered vital to the recovery of the endangered fish."

The Recovery Program was established in 1988 to recover the endangered Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail, while providing Endangered Species Act compliance for all historic and current water users throughout the Upper Colorado River Basin.

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