Colorado trout streams under new protection
SUMMIT COUNTY Some of Summit County’s best trout fishing streams got an extra measure of protection recently when the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) decided to adopt standards that will provide a meaningful tool to address human-caused temperature changes.”This is a very significant step forward,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, a fisheries conservation group. “This at least puts temperature in the discussion,” Nickum said, explaining that the new rules won’t prevent anyone from using existing water rights. But any new projects, be they diversions, dams or discharges from water treatment facilities, would have to take the new standards into account.”We’re pleased that they adopted biologically based standards. They are quite protective for trout,” Nickum said.He also explained that the optimum temperatures for growing populations of big, healthy trout is close to the upper end of the temperature ranges covered under the new rules. That means there is a fine line between a stream that is perfect for fish, and one that is just too warm.In Summit County, the Blue River Gold Medal trout fishery downstream of Dillon Dam falls under the new rules, as do Blue River headwater streams higher in the basin. For now, the WQCC adopted a set of interim standards that cover Gold Medal fishing waters like the Lower Blue. In 2008, the state will begin the process of applying the regulations basin by basin, beginning with the Colorado Basin.The site-specific implementation of the new rules will also leave some room for exceptions in cases where the standards simply aren’t realistic.The so-called tailwater fishery just below Dillon Dam is protected to some degree by cold water releases from the reservoir, but temperatures could become an issue farther downstream. At a Colorado River Headwaters Forum Thursday, Silverthorne utilities manager Zach Margolis said the town looked closely at the temperature standards to determine whether it would have any impacts on the operation of the wastewater treatment plant.In some cases – but not in Silverthorne – Margolis said, the standards could require a discharger to physically cool the water before dumping it into the river, a process that would be expensive and require a great deal of electricity.Staffers with the WQCC gave a background presentation on the history of the temperatures standards, explaining that the rules are based on an exhaustive review of the existing scientific literature on the impacts of temperature on aquatic life. There are 76 species of fish living in Colorado waters, and the research for the temperature regs covered 68 of those. The most sensitive to temperature changes is the native greenback cutthroat trout.Trout and other fish have evolved over thousands of years to thrive in a narrow range of optimal temperatures. Their spawning activity is triggered by seasonal changes in water temperature, so one of the goals of the new rules is to keep streams somewhere close to the natural seasonal fluctuations.Colorado has had temperature standards on the books for decades, but they were open to interpretation and difficult to enforce. The new regs spell out exactly how and when temperatures should be measured.Other Gold Medal waters in the region covered under the interim rules include the Colorado River from its confluence with the Fraser River downstream to Troublesome Creek, Gore Creek from the Eagle River upstream to Red Sandstone Creek, as well as the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers in the Aspen area.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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