Colorado Parks and Wildlife is closing a short segment of the Arkansas River beginning Oct. 23 to facilitate removal of a low-head dam located 1.5 miles upstream from the Mount Shavano State Fish Hatchery.
The closure will be in place from the Chaffee County Road 166 Bridge to the Salida Boat Ramp.
The dam was first built around 1956 to collect water for the hatchery downstream and then rebuilt in 1988 with an adjacent boat ramp.
Removing the dam will benefit the Gold Medal river’s fish – brown trout, rainbow trout and native white suckers – by opening about 85 miles of river upstream to fish migration. Barriers like the dam limit genetic diversity by essentially dividing the population into two segments.
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.
In addition, removal will eliminate a deadly threat to the thousands who boat on the Arkansas River each year. Water spilling over the dam churns at the bottom, creating a powerful suction that can capsize and trap boaters or swimmers.
“Removing this low-head dam will eliminate a significant safety concern for instream recreationists and will re-establish critical connectivity for aquatic species in the Arkansas River,” said April Estep, deputy regional manager of CPW’s Southeast Region. “CPW is excited to complete this important project and grateful to our partners, including the Chaffee County Board of County Commissioners, which provided $100,000 toward the $1.1 million removal effort.”
During the six-week closure, signs at access points will direct boaters, rafters and others traveling instream how to avoid the construction. River users are encouraged to CPW’s Salida-based Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) at 719-539-7289 for updates.
“This is a very popular stretch of water,” said Tom Waters, park manager for the AHRA, which encompasses 152 miles of the Arkansas River from Leadville to Pueblo. “It’s exciting to be reopening the river so that aquatic species that live in the river can again move freely up and down the river corridor.
“Even more important, it will provide safer passage for recreational users in this popular stretch of river. The environment, the river enthusiasts and the community will benefit from the removal of this low-head dam.”
The dam has not been used as a water supply for the fish hatchery since 2000 after whirling disease was detected in the Arkansas River a few years earlier. 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.