New Mexico Game and Fish Plans for Future of the San Juan River Fishery

Here is an overview of the NM Trout monthly meeting held on October 8, 2002:

The subject of the meeting was future plans for the San Juan River. Peter Wilkinson and Marc Wethington of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish were the presenters. Peter is the Assistant Chief of the Fisheries Management Division and Marc is assigned as the San Juan biologist. Marc gave most of the presentation entitled "San Juan River Special Trout Water Management Plan". All the information in this was gathered from their presentation so full credit goes to Mark and Peter accordingly.

They had hoped to present the draft of the management plan to the audience but it is still undergoing an internal review. They hope to have the plan ready for public review and feedback within the next few months. They will post it on their web site when it is ready. I'm sure someone will post to the board when it is ready for us to review. Marc and Peter were very sincere in their solicitation for public input on the plan. We can make a difference here but I'll get to that later.

The EIS

Marc started off by commenting on the Bureau of Reclamation draft Environmental Impact Statement for Navajo Reservoir found at:

http://www.uc.usbr.gov/envdocs/eis/navajo/navresops_deis.html

He stated that this year (2002) Navajo reservoir recorded the lowest water flow on record and the lowest lake level since 1962 when the dam was constructed! As odd as it may seem, on years like this when we are especially dry, the San Juan will typically flow higher to compensate for the lower flows of the Animas. On wet years the San Juan will flow lower to store up water. This is being done to protect the native endangered fish and their habitat as well as to provide enough water for irrigation. He indicated that the proposed 250cfs flow from the EIS will go into effect as soon as it is signed off. He estimated this would happen around the first of the new year. The EIS basically proposes a base flow of 250cfs and a maximum flow of 5000cfs (the current plan utilizes a 500cfs base flow). Based on the latest low flow study that was conducted for 6 days, the BoR is estimating (an educated guess) that there would be a 30-37% reduction in trout habitat at flows of 250cfs. It would be a little better on the upper river but worse on the lower river. This would result in a 20% reduction in the trout population (again, only an educated guess based on limited data). Some other data that was noteworthy: During the low flow test the water temperature rose some 7-8 degrees on the lower river and measured in the upper 70's by the time it reached the Hammond Diversion (around 15 miles down river). That is quite a temperature differential considering the water that comes from the dam is typically around 40 degrees. Public comments are being accepted on the EIS until November 4, 2002. You can mail your comments to:

Ken Beck
BoR Western CO Area Office
835 East second Ave. Suite 400
Durango, CO 81301

The Plan

Next, Marc continued with his briefing on the San Juan management plan. I've included some of the historical milestones and other interesting data he cited below:

Historical Milestones:

Data Points:

Marc talked about several of the areas that the plan will focus on. They are certainly very concerned about the quality of the fishery. It was noted that while they have no scientific data to prove it yet, there seems to be a decline in the number of 20 inch fish being caught. Marc attributed this to increased pressure and the flow changes since the reoperation in 1991. Marc emphasized that the NM Game and Fish does not support flows under 500cfs. They are also considering habitat improvements such as replanting the cottonwoods that are currently dwindling each year. They are also concerned with the number of anglers that are on the river each day. They are considering inputs that have included permit requirements, limiting guide permits, a lottery type system, etc. However, they don't really like any of these options so far and are hoping for more input from us. They will consider expanding the quality waters. One plan has the quality water extended to the Aztec bridge (except for some bait water from Cottonwood campground to Pump House). They will also consider expanding the Catch and Release area further. There were many other areas of concern too but not enough time to go into too much detail. The bottom line is that they are soliciting input from us, the public, to help them shape their plan. As I stated earlier, the draft plan will be out in the next several weeks and they want our input. The NM Game and Fish site is:

http://www.gmfsh.state.nm.us

Pete's e-mail is pwilkinson@state.nm.us

I asked specifically what was the best way to make the biggest impact. Pete replied that groups like NMT, the San Juan Guide Association, and other interested organizations that band together and form a consolidated response is the best way. However, in lieu of that, we all can take some time to review the plan and individually send them an e-mail with our thoughts. I'd like to emphasize that our responses must be productive and respectful. These folks are doing their best to make the San Juan a quality fishery for years to come. They have a lot of constraints to deal with but they are doing the best that they can and most importantly, they are asking for and considering our inputs.

I'd like to personally thank Marc and Pete for a fine presentation and their dedication to the job. Let's help them out!!!


This article was compiled by Mike Mora using details presented at the October 8, 2000 NM Trout meeting. Special thanks to Peter Wilkinson and Marc Wethington.