How Drought Conditions Affect Garfield County Fisheries
Most of the time, it’s like shooting a fish in a barrel. People get on Dustin Harcourt’s boat, and they’re likely to catch a cargo of trout.
However, the recent drought conditions around Garfield County made the famous fishing guide question whether all the fish were simply gone. The realization hit him while fishing the Colorado River a few days ago.
“We fished like two fish,” he said. “We stayed outside for six or seven hours. “
It could be the cloudy, chocolatey consistency of the water creating low visibility conditions for the fish, he said. Or maybe it’s the lack of nutrients in the water that caused significant fish kills, Harcourt wondered.
The July and early August mudslides in Glenwood Canyon are partly to blame. The drought has also caused the water temperature to rise above 70 degrees, which is not conducive to good fishing, Harcourt said. The Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers have passed 70 degrees this summer.
As for Garfield County reservoirs, drought conditions have dramatically reduced water levels throughout the summer.
Rifle Gap State Park Director Brian Palcer said low water levels aren’t necessarily uncommon, but it’s unusual to see low water levels so early in the year. At Rifle Gap’s highest point this year, he was 15 feet below full storage.
At present it is 40 feet below full.
“Harvey Gap is down as well, but it’s a bit more normal there,” he said. “The gap between the guns is where we see a real gap. “
It’s not that water evaporates into the air – instead, 532 local farmers and ranchers use the two reservoirs as part of the conservation district. As their livelihoods are affected by drought, they are more likely to need to draw more and more water from the reservoir.
“That’s what pulls it down, is irrigation,” he said.
But the drop in water levels has not had a negative impact on fishing in the reservoirs.
“They still catch trout, even though it’s hot. They catch perch, I see smallmouth bass, there have been walleye caught here and there, ”Palcer said. “So the fishing is still pretty decent.
The real fear is that if the water bodies don’t fill up, the fish nesting areas will stay high and dry, Palcer said. The hope is that water levels will return to normal in the winter, when the snow falls and local farmers and ranchers stop pulling from the reservoirs.
The irrigation attraction officially ends on October 15.
“We’ve been to Harvey Gap a number of times, and Harvey Gap and Rifle Gap are extremely low,” Harcourt said. “Fish meet a lot of new friends while crowded in a puddle. So if you’re a little fish, you better watch your back.
According to information provided by Silt Water Conservancy District Representative Tina Bergonzini, Harvey Gap was originally built by immigrant farmers in 1897 to store water. Their water rights were not only intended for agricultural purposes but also for domestic use.
Harvey Gap can hold 5,806 acre-feet of water, while Rifle Gap can hold 12,167 acre-feet before spilling.
“Project water was allocated to landowners in the district based on soil, slope and production possibilities. This water cannot leave the land to which it has been assigned. It is transferred to the new owners via a waiver request or a deed of guarantee when the property is sold, ”Bergonzini said in an email. “It’s a great safeguard to keep the water distributed on viable land and prevent people from being able to ‘buy’ all the water. The Bureau of Reclamation has allocated 10,384 acre-feet of water to the 6,597 acres in our district.
Bergonzini said the drought conditions have also affected the way the district distributes its irrigation. One method followed by the district this year was to implement four weeks off at the start of the season, when landowners did not have access to irrigation water from reservoirs.
“We’ve worked with many other entities, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department – all of these different entities to try to create a more symbiotic relationship between tourism, recreation and agriculture,” a- she declared.
Bergonzini said pastoralists in the district have implemented different practices, using products on their fields that help the roots to absorb more water and draw water deeper.
District farmer Nathan Bell, whose allotment is stored at Rifle Gap, said he irrigates in different ways.
“Our full allotment is 50 days shared per acre-foot of water,” he said. “This year, because we knew it would be drought conditions, we started at 40 days shared per acre-foot.”
Like most years, they depend on a good snowpack and snowmelt, as well as heavy rains in early spring. This year there has been little rainfall, which means less irrigation, Bell said.
For avid fishermen in the community, they too eagerly await heavy snowfall to hit the mountain. At the very least, the water temperatures are already starting to cool.
This is good news for Harcourt.
“We’re going to be in the fall very quickly,” Harcourt said. “The fall fishing is some of the best that the whole year has to offer. So myself and most of my friends and guides we all can’t wait to say goodbye to summer.
Journalist Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or [email protected].