Trout-a-Palooza Fundraiser Set for July 25
TELLURIDE – Fresh off the successful completion of the Relief Ditch diversion project on the lower Gunnison River, the Gunnison Gorge Anglers chapter of Trout Unlimited is looking forward to future fishery conservation efforts, beginning with its annual Trout-a-Palooza celebration and fundraiser Thursday, July 25 at the Ah Haa School.
With the improvement of fisheries in Delta, Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel counties its main goal since 1984, GGA’s conservation efforts have been extensive. From working on gaining public access to stretches of the Gunnison River to reducing ice flows on the San Miguel, the organization has an impressive resume of projects that have greatly improved the region’s renowned fishing possibilities.
Just this year, GGA was able to complete the Relief Ditch/Dam project on the lower Gunnison River, several miles below its confluence with the North Fork of the Gunnison. The finished project, which involved the participation of a large number of stakeholders, removed a dangerous, costly diversion dam and replaced it with an efficient, reliable water-delivery system for agricultural users downstream.
GGA President Marshall Pendergrass said the project not only improves the fishing on that part of the river but will also save water and money in the long run.
“There was a lot of understanding and cooperation from a lot of people to get this done,” Pendergrass said. “This was a project that could have never been completed 10 years ago.”
Pendergrass said GGA is “in between projects right now” but there are more conservation projects on the horizon, in the high country near Telluride as well as forthcoming on the Uncompahgre River.
Pendergrass said the organization is interested in helping on a project at Priest Lake, which is being led by the San Miguel Watershed Coalition. Priest Lake’s dam, he explained, is structurally unsound and engineers have had to drop the water levels of the lake. A project to rebuild the dam, at a cost of more than $1 million, is being considered.
“We are interested in getting involved when it gets toward issuing contracts and design contracts,” Pendergrass said. “We have a fulltime Trout Unlimited guy who designed the Heartland Dam and I think he could be of some excellent assistance to them.”
Ultimately, the improved dam at Priest Lake would make it a fishing destination.
“Colorado Parks and Wildlife is pushing to make that a native cutthroat fishery, like they did at Woods Lake,” he said. “So that would be good. It would improve the fishery and the water quality.”
As for the Uncompahgre River below Ridgway Reservoir, Pendergrass said GGA will be doing everything it can to support the two new hydroelectric units planned for the dam. As it stands now, the hydroelectric project will include a large hydro unit and a small hydro unit. Pendergrass said it's the use of those two differently-sized units – one larger in the summer, and one smaller in the winter – that will eventually make the Uncompahgre River a year-round fishery.
“They’ll be able to generate power and release more water during the winter,” he said. “They’ll get revenue to offset the maintenance expenses and we will get improved habitat. It’s a win-win to go with that design. We’ll see a tenfold increase in fishing and aquatic habitat. Our long-range plan is to make the Uncompahgre a destination winter fishery. Once irrigation flows stop and we are able to keep 100 cfs in there, it won’t ice up and it will become more of a social urban fishery.”
Further down the Uncompahgre River, he said, GGA is planning to participate with the City of Montrose on the construction of its whitewater park at Baldridge Park and to improve river access on new developments, as well.
Pendergrass also said the GGA is going to begin working on issues involving oil and gas leases on the Roan Plateau, in the area of the North Fork of the Gunnison, and near Species Creek on the San Miguel River.
“That will be one of our big efforts,” he said.
The Trout-a-Palooza event on July 25 will include a social hour, a catered dinner, raffles, silent and live auctions and a conservation presentation by GGA. The event begins at 6 p.m. Tickets are $75, and can be purchased by calling Telluride Outside at 970/728-3895.