Experimental Reservoir Releases Blamed for Farm Flooding

Experimental Reservoir Releases Blamed for Farm Flooding

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Over the angry objections of farmers and county officials, the Bureau of Reclamation has begun experimental high flow releases at Flaming Gorge Dam that are intended to improve habitat for trout and endangered native fish species in the Green River.

The releases are coming at the same time as the spring runoffs, and the eastern Utah officials say the result is flooded farmland.

"We think human lives and livelihoods ought to come ahead of endangered species," Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee said Tuesday. "They're purposely flooding these lowlands, and it is creating huge problems for us."

McKee says farmers have been forced to pull their pumps from fields along the river, and alfalfa and other crop stands are being destroyed by the high water. He said the high flows will create mosquito problems, including possible West Nile virus infestations, and a breakout of noxious weeds.

McKee said the county might go after the bureau for losses suffered by farmers.

"There's always legal recourse, and we're considering legal recourse," he said.

The county officials said the Bureau of Reclamation has ignored their pleas to reduce the flows.

The flows are being increased to a maximum 4,600 cubic feet per second out of the dam, resulting in flows at Jensen as high as 19,500 cfs.

Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Barry Wirth said the high flows are within the historic range of wetter years in the Uinta Basin. In 1997, 1999 and 2003, Green River flows reached 24,900, 20,600 and 19,000 cfs, respectively.

"We've seen these flows before. But after five or six years of drought, some of this becomes out of sight, out of mind," he said.

Wirth said the bureau is required to carry out the experiment under a 1992 opinion by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that calls for the monitoring and restoration of the razorback sucker, the humpback chub and the Colorado pike-minnow.

The high flows are intended to scour sediment below the dam and flood some areas, creating backwater spots where the endangered fish can live.

The releases intentionally were made to coincide with the peak runoff from the Yampa River, which merges with the Green in Dinosaur National Monument. Yampa flows are expected to decrease in the next few days.

Fish and Wildlife officials and researchers are using the high water to analyze the rates at which razorback sucker larvae and buoyant beads used to simulate larvae move downstream and settle into the backwater habitats.

McKee contends the requirements of the flow test could be satisfied with lower water levels.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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