Prolonged drought in Southwest Colorado is now affecting Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s fish hatchery in Durango.
Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for CPW, said the Durango Fish Hatchery, along the banks of the Animas River near Main Avenue and 16th Street, receives its water from three natural springs near Durango High School.
Typically, at this time of year, about 1,000 gallons of water per minute flows into the hatchery. Currently, however, because of a long-term drought that has gripped the region, only 700 gallons of water per minute are flowing.
“The ongoing drought is causing the water table to drop, so there’s less water coming into the hatchery,” said Toby Mourning, Durango hatchery manager.
Winter is the time when the hatchery holds the most fish in anticipation of stocking in spring and summer. Currently, there are about 1 million fish on-site, mostly fingerlings 2 to 3 inches in size.
Those fish are stocked at various stages of their life cycle, Lewandowski said.
But because there is less water coming into the hatchery, CPW was forced last week to stock an estimated 28,000 mature rainbow trout throughout Southwest Colorado to make room at the hatchery.
For example, CPW went through the ice to stock nearly 5,000 9-inch rainbow trout into Summit Reservoir and another 1,400 or so into Joe Moore Reservoir, both north of Mancos.
In 2021, CPW expects to stock an estimated 100,000 catchable rainbow trout throughout Southwest Colorado.
This is not the first time drought has caused issues for Colorado’s second oldest fish hatchery (second only to the Leadville National Fish Hatchery, which is federally owned).
In the drought year of 2018, which was then the second lowest water year in recorded history, typical spring flows into the hatchery went from 1,600 gallons a minute to just 500 to 600 gallons a minute.
The Durango Fish Hatchery raises and stocks about 135,000 catchable rainbow trout and about 1.3 million juvenile fish each year. But the amount of available water has an influence on how many fish can be raised.
With less available water last year, hatchery managers stocked fish in streams and rivers earlier than normal.
“We had to get rid of quite a few fish,” Mourning said at the time. “Probably one-third of the fish we’d normally have.”
As a result of the risks posed to the hatchery because of drought conditions, CPW intends to drill a test well to determine if another water source in the area is available.
“The test-drilling will be done this year,” Lewandowski said.
In the meantime, if necessary, more fish could be stocked.