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Fed study fishes for solutions for Green River

Bureau looks at dam flows from Flaming Gorge

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The Bureau of Reclamation will begin an environmental study to determine how much water must be released from the Flaming Gorge Dam so the Green River's endangered fish can recover.

Flaming Gorge Dam is located on the Green River in northeastern Utah, with the reservoir extending into southwestern Wyoming. The razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub and bonytail chub are four endangered fishes living in the Green River, downstream from the dam.

The Endangered Species Act requires the dam's operators, Bureau of Reclamation, to change the operations to reduce the harm caused to the endangered fish. So a series of public meetings will be held this month in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado to gather input on what relevant environmental issues should be addressed in the study.

"We encourage input from the public to identify issues of concern to be addressed in the (Environmental Impact Statement)," said Charles Calhoun, the regional director in the BurRec's Upper Colorado Region. "This information, coupled with the data obtained as a result of the environmental studies, will be used in developing and evaluating reasonable alternatives

for the operation of the dam to protect the endangered fishes."

The environmental study will focus primarily on the temperature and flow of releases from the dam.

Glen Canyon Action Network, a Moab-based environmental group pushing for draining Lake Powell, wants the study to include several things:

An extensive environmental study on the entire Colorado River watershed, including the Green River and San Juan River basins.

A basinwide endangered fish recovery plan that considers alternatives to dams.

Decommissioning the dam as an alternative, including other dams such as Glen Canyon on Lake Powell.

Removing non-native fish which prey on endangered fish.

Limiting withdrawals of water.

Restoring the Green River downstream from the dam, especially through historic Dinosaur National Monument.

The group contends that dams on the Colorado River, Green River and San Juan River contribute to the decline of native fish.

"Despite the government's knowledge of these facts, there has not been any consideration given to decommissioning dams as a rational approach to recovering the native fish," group leaders say in an e-mail urging public attendance to the hearings. "Instead, the government has chosen to look at each river segment and each isolated fish population separately as if the dams were permanent, immovable fixtures."

The entire Colorado River basin should be looked at rather than a single dam, the group claims.

Bureau of Reclamation officials say they will look at a range of alternatives. But decommissioning isn't one of them.

"We will not look at decommissioning the dam," said Kerry Schwartz, environmental protection specialist for Bureau of Reclamation. The purpose of Flaming Gorge Dam is for recreation, power generation and protecting wildlife and fisheries.

Schwartz said he hopes the public will look at the flow recommendations to help the Bureau of Reclamation come up with alternatives that will benefit endangered fish.

After the public meetings a multi-agency team will analyze the comments and evaluate concerns to prepare a range of reasonable alternatives, officials said.

The public will have a chance to comment on a draft environmental study.

American Rivers listed the Green River as one of the most endangered rivers in America because of the Flaming Gorge Dam.

The dam is a hydropower dam and storage facility that regulates the flow of the Green for 410 miles downstream as the river winds its way through Utah's canyon country and two national parks.

Although the amount of water in the river has remained at historic levels, the dam has dramatically altered the river's timing and natural fluctuations to maximize power production, American Rivers said in its annual report. Operation of the dam has also drastically changed the temperature by releasing water from the cold depths of the bottom of the reservoir.

The group didn't suggest that the dam be removed but that dam managers release enough water downstream so the endangered fish can spawn.

E-mail: donna@desnews.com