Upper Colorado Recovery

Northern Water is a participant in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

The program’s purpose is to re-establish populations of threatened and endangered species in the Upper Colorado River basin.

The effort began in 1988 when a coalition of federal, state and regional agencies agreed to recover the endangered fish while simultaneously preserving future water development opportunities. Northern Water chose to voluntarily participate in the recovery program.

Four Endangered Fish
The effort focuses on four endangered species in the Upper Colorado River:

  • Colorado pikeminnow
  • razorback sucker
  • bonytail
  • humpback chub
Once abundant in the Colorado River and many of its tributaries, these fish now exist in much smaller numbers in only a few places in the basin.

Protecting Fish in the 15-Mile ReachA principal program component includes providing additional water for aquatic life in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River, located immediately above the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers at Grand Junction.
As a part of the program, Upper Colorado River water users agreed to supply 10,825 acre-feet of water annually to the Colorado River in late summer for the endangered fish. Colorado River water users have been contributing this water annually since 2000.

Half of the 10,825 acre feet is released each year from Lake Granby on behalf of East Slope water users. The remaining portion provided by West Slope water users comes from Ruedi Reservoir on the Fryingpan River above Basalt. The East Slope’s contribution was made possible by ceasing irrigation on land upstream of Lake Granby, capturing and storing that water in Lake Granby, and then releasing it during late summer and early fall for municipal-recreational uses, while also benefitting the endangered fish.

Lake Granby Releases Started in 2013
The Lake Granby releases in this program (5,400 acre-feet) began on Aug. 1 , 2013 as a result of an agreement between Northern Water and the City of Grand Junction.

The total cost of the releases is $17.2 million, all of which was borne by Northern Water through dedication of Red Top Valley Ditch rights and a transfer of Northern Water’s cash reserves to the fish recovery program (also called the “10825 project”). East Slope water users repaid Northern Water $8.9 million in fiscal year 2013 for their portions of the program, putting Northern Water’s commitment to the project at $8.3 million.

Recovery program participants have established these strategies and goals:

  1. Enhance spring river flows by releasing water without adversely affecting project yields.
  2. Supplement river flows in late summer for young fish.
  3. Manage stocking and non-native fish management programs to enhance endangered fish recovery work.
  4. Construct passageways and ladders around specified dams and barriers to allow fish migration.
  5. Raise endangered fish in hatcheries for stocking.
  6. Coordinate and conduct additional research on endangered fish.
  7. Improve aquatic habitat.

Endangered fish, from top to bottom: bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, and humpback chub.
Participating Organizations Besides Northern Water, organizations and agencies participating in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program are:
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
  • Western Area Power Administration
  • State of Colorado
  • State of Utah
  • State of Wyoming
  • Environmental community
  • Upper basin water users
  • National Park Service
  • Colorado River Energy Distributors Association