Colorado Fish Report

CPW lifts closure on Ark River after dam removed near Salida, enhancing public safety

Photo Credit: Photos are courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Arkansas River-Colorado

by Colorado Parks & Wildlife

CPW lifts closure on Ark River after dam removed near Salida, enhancing public safety

SALIDA, Colo. – Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Thursday lifted a closure of the Arkansas River above Salida that was imposed last month to allow removal of a low-head dam located 1.5 miles upstream from CPW's Mount Shavano State Fish Hatchery.

The river was reopened as crews completed removal of the dam and an adjacent boat chute, said Tom Waters, CPW’s park manager for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, which encompasses 152 miles of the Arkansas River from Leadville to Pueblo.

“We are happy to announce the river is open again, weeks sooner than expected, to instream recreation,” Waters said. “The closure and mandatory portage signs have been removed and the buoy line barrier across the river has been taken down.”

Waters said final clean-up work along the banks should be done by Nov. 23.

CPW had closed the stretch of river from the Chaffee County Road 166 Bridge to the Salida Boat Ramp to allow heavy equipment to break up and remove the dam, which was first built around 1956 to collect water for the hatchery downstream. The dam was rebuilt in 1987 with an adjacent boat chute.

“By removing the dam, we have eliminated a deadly threat to the thousands who boat on this popular stretch of the Arkansas River each year,” Waters said. River water, spilling over the dam, churned at the bottom of the dam structure, creating a powerful hydraulic that capsized and trapped boaters and swimmers. Since 2010, three people have died at the dam.

Removing the dam also enhances movements of fish – brown trout, rainbow trout and native white suckers – by easing migration access to about 85 miles of the Gold Medal river upstream. Barriers like the dam limit genetic diversity by essentially isolating segments of the river’s fish population. 

The ability of fish to move freely in a river also helps to prevent overpopulation by balancing the amount of habitat and forage with the number of fish it can support.

“This project is a great example of how CPW works with its local partners to accomplish important projects for the public,” said April Estep, deputy regional manager of CPW’s Southeast Region. She specifically praised CPW’s partners, including the Chaffee County Board of County Commissioners, who provided $100,000 toward the $1.1 million removal effort.

The dam has not been used as a hatchery water supply since 2000 after whirling disease was detected in the river. Whirling disease is caused by a parasite that infects rainbow trout, leaving them deformed and swimming in circles before it quickly kills the youngest fish. CPW spent $1.5 million at the hatchery to convert it to clean spring water to raise its fish.

Photo shows the dam prior to the start of demolition in October.

Crews started by sealing off the boat chute and using excavators to remove the chute structure, creating a smooth river bottom so the Arkansas River could be  diverted through it.

Then crews built a dam to channel the main flow of the river through the old chute so excavators could begin breaking up the dam.

Finally, the dam was removed and rock structures were placed in the river channel to slow water flow and create fish habitat. The structures are visible from the aerial photos.

The Arkansas River now flows unobstructed into Salida. Crews will continue to clean up the river banks over the coming days.

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