Nearly every year in the late winter and early spring, we have posted on this site about the spawn. Our retail staff — all who are experienced anglers — and our guides all convey the same message: spare the spawn. Imagine our surprise, then, this morning when we discovered that the flow on the Arkansas River tailwater below the dam in Pueblo had been dropped to under 20 cubic feet per second (cfs). You’re damn right we’re mad.
Upon seeing the data, our Director of Services, Jon Easdon, emailed the folks who manage the flows on the Arkansas. Because of the whole issue of water management, it is not easy to identify who that may be. He is hoping to get some clarification or reason why they chose to drop the flows this much at the tail end of spawn. When he receives a response — or IF he does — we will update you here and on social media.
Why The Flow Matters
When fish spawn, they need sufficient water to cover “the redds,” the spawning beds, to maintain healthy, fertilized eggs. With a flow of 14.5 cfs below the dam and 25.5 in Pueblo itself (at Moffat Street gage), some spawning beds will be completely out of the water. Fertilized eggs will not last long. Shallower water, too, gets warmer much faster. Now, in March and April, those temperatures may not reach a lethal temperature. But even a few degrees makes for a less-healthy environment for those eggs.
Why We’re Frustrated
Most responsible anglers and fly shops try to educate others on how to maintain a healthy fishery. We certainly do. “Don’t cast to fish on the redds.” “Don’t walk on the redds.” And then bureaucrats far removed from the fishery make a decision to drop the flows and pretty much obliterate the spawn.
We are actually hoping to hear that the low flows were because of some issue with the dam or with the release valves or some technological error. If not, if the decreased flows were because of a decision by the “powers that be,” then their actions are reprehensible and should be called out.
UPDATE on the flow
What we have learned throughout the day is the following. Because of the recent colder temps, the input into Lake Pueblo has slowed considerably. The water operator slowed the outflow to match what was flowing into Lake Pueblo. Water rights in Colorado of those downstream and the legalities around those water rights took precedence. Those rights and laws supersede any potential biological impacts. The water operator was actually operating by the book. In essence, a perfect storm developed: the spawn, cold temps to drop the inflow, and certain legalities around water rights.
What this last 24 hours has also revealed is the complexity of water rights laws in Colorado. I won’t even try to unwrap those here. Another complexity is the relationship among groups accessing our local tailwaters. Conservationists are fighting for healthy fisheries. Anglers are trying to protect them, too, and get a little angry if actions like today threaten the fish population of tomorrow. Colorado Parks and Wildlife, who is not responsible for water management and flows, share our concerns. They are aware of and concerned about the potential negative effects this could have. Water managers, who have to regulate the flows contingent on the whims of nature, are also trying to meet the competing demands of multiple users. I think of our tailwaters in the same way I think of mountain trails. These are multi-purpose resources with different demands coming from different stakeholders.
Are we still angry? Yes. But maybe we can all channel that anger to help fuel efforts to be good stewards of the fishery. It’s a delicate balance.
We will continue to keep you posted as we gather information and continue the dialogue.