Upper Colorado Recovery Program

Recovering Fish in the Upper Colorado River

In an effort to help recover endangered fish in the Upper Colorado River Basin, Northern Water is a participant in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. The effort began in 1988 when a coalition of local, state and federal agencies, water and power interests, and environmental groups began working to recover populations of four threatened and endangered fish species in the Upper Colorado River Basin and provide Endangered Species Act (ESA) compliance for water projects throughout the basin. Specifically, partners of the program are recovering four species of endangered fish: the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.   

Program partners, including Northern Water, participate in management actions leading toward delisting of the four endangered fish by:

  • Enhancing peak flow during runoff by releasing water from storage and bypassing inflows without adversely affecting project yields;
  • Supplementing river flows in late summer;
  • Stocking of native fish and managing non-native species;
  • Constructing fish passage and fish screens at diversion dams and other physical barriers to allow for fish migration and limit entrapment;
  • Raising endangered fish in hatcheries for stocking;
  • Coordinating and conducting additional research on endangered fish; and
  • Improving aquatic habitat.
Endangered fish.
As part of our participation in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, the goal is to help recover four species of fish. Clockwise from the upper left: the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.
Upper Colorado River Recovery Program Map

As of Dec. 31, 2019, the Recovery Program has provided ESA compliance for 2,181 water projects depleting approximately 2.86 million acre-feet/year in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. This includes 1,250 projects in Colorado depleting 2.1 million acre-feet per year. ESA compliance has been streamlined for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, federal agencies and water users and to date no lawsuits have been filed on ESA compliance provided by the Recovery Program.

Aerial view of Lake Granby
Lake Granby

Northern Water’s Commitment to the Upper Colorado River  

To support the program, Northern Water partnered with other water users to provide 5,412 acre-feet of water in Lake Granby to be released into the Colorado River. The water is released pursuant to an agreement between Northern Water and the City of Grand Junction and in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This agreement allows 5,412 acre-feet of water stored in Lake Granby to be shepherded to a critical 15 mile-reach of the Colorado River in the Grand Valley of western Colorado to assist in flow enhancements to assist in the recovery of the endangered fish. The water released from Lake Granby often has additional benefits in Grand County for enhanced stream flows below Lake Granby in late summer or early fall. Northern Water is committed to working with the Fish and Wildlife Service, local interests and other water users to maximize the benefit of the releases down the Colorado River to and through the 15-mile reach by coordinating their amount and timing.