Colorado reservoirs are drying up as rivers heat up

Late last month, the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife announced emergency public fish rescues for two reservoirs located in the state’s eastern plains. Fishery managers expect the Jumbo and Queens tanks to dry up completely in the near future, and they hope the public will be able to harvest as many fish as possible before that happens.

The announcements come as Grain Plant Worldwide Partners has implemented voluntary and mandatory fishing closures on trout streams across the state. The idea of ​​closing some fisheries while declaring an open season on others may seem contradictory, but these measures are just different responses to the same problem. Many of Colorado’s water bodies are either drying up or warming (or both) this summer, and the state is doing everything it can to protect its precious water resources while still providing opportunities for fishermen.

Catch them before they go

CPW carried out an emergency fish rescue operation at the Queens Reservoir starting July 21. Fishermen are still required to use legal fishing methods and possess a valid Colorado fishing license.

“Due to low water levels and rising temperatures, Queens Reservoir is at imminent risk of being catastrophically killed by fish,” CPW Southeast Area Manager Mitch Martin announced on July 11.

Queens is fed by a series of canals that divert the Arkansas River, and is one of the many storage reservoirs that make up the Great Plains Reservoir System. The agency clarified in July that this wouldn’t be the first time the warm-water tank had run dry. It dried up in 2005 and remained that way until 2015, when CPW “rebuilt” it by refilling and stocking the tank with crappie, bass, walleye, and other warm water types.

Water managers now say that due to the ongoing drought and increased irrigation demand in the area, “it looks like the reservoir may run dry again.”

The emergency fish rescue in Jumbo Reservoir (Golsberg) was carried out four days later, on July 25. Just as at the Queens Reservoir, CPW has raised bag limits and lure restrictions at Jumbo, adding that a public bailout could be canceled if heavy rain falls and water levels rise. For now, though, the agency expects water levels in Jumbo to dip below the boat ramp sometime in early August.

The jumbo tank receives a significant amount of fishing pressure, according to CPW. The Colorado Governor’s Association held a tournament there in May, and fishery managers are already anticipating that they will have to rebuild the fisheries when water levels return.

“It is very sad to lose such an amazing and popular fishery,” said fish biologist Mandy Brandt. “Fisheries play an important role in the local economy.”

Michelle Stange, Sedgwick County’s executive director of economic development, appeared more concerned about water loss in Jumbo during an interview with the Colorado Sun.

“We don’t have a lot of things to get people here. In the summer it’s the reservoir. In the winter it’s the fishing reservoir. Not only will this destroy Julesburg’s economy. This can destroy the county’s economy,” Stang said.

Leave ‘Em Be in the afternoon

The massive drought decimating Colorado’s reservoirs is also affecting some of the more common trout streams. Combined with the summer heat wave currently hitting the greater southwest, a historical drought has caused water temperatures in many of these rivers to rise to dangerous levels.

By the end of July, CPW officials ordered a voluntary closure of fishing across several waterways, including the Fraser, Colorado, Eagle, Animas, San Juan and Dolores rivers. These voluntary closures were in addition to a mandatory full-day closure that took effect in June on a well-known stretch of the Yampa River near Steamboat Springs.

The state’s main request was that fishermen stay away from the rivers in the afternoon, when the streams are at their warmest. The agency explained that in some parts of these rivers, water temperatures were hovering around 71 degrees. Most fisheries biologists agree that trout begin to sour when temperatures rise above 67 degrees.

For the most part, the state’s fishermen and outfitters have agreed to honor these voluntary closures, and many fishing guides are taking proactive measures to protect the resources. This includes starting their days early and moving to higher elevations for fish as water temperatures rise.

“We can all do our part with a stream thermometer and focus on higher and cooler fisheries,” said a report on fishing July 24 from the Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt. “The moral of the story is when in doubt, you should step up at the heights, pay attention to the temperatures, don’t play fish to fatigue and have fun on the water while putting the fish first.”

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