River Research and Applications
Unforeseen interactions of dams and declining water availability have formed new obstacles to recovering endemic and endangered big-river fishes. During a recent trend of drying climate and declining reservoir water levels in the southwestern United States, a large waterfall has formed on two separate occasions (1989-1995 & 2001-present) in the transition zone between the San Juan River and Lake Powell reservoir because of deposited sediments. Because recovery plans for two large-bodied endangered fish species, razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus) and Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius), include annual stockings in the San Juan River, this waterfall potentially blocks upstream movement of individuals that moved downstream from the river into the reservoir. To quantify the temporal variation in abundance of endangered fishes aggregating downstream of the waterfall and determine population demographics, we remotely monitored and sampled in spring 2015, 2016, and 2017 when these fish were thought to move upstream to spawn. Additionally, we used an open population model applied to tagged fish detected in 2017 to estimate population sizes. Colorado pike minnow were so infrequently encountered (< 30 individuals) that population estimates were not performed. Razorback sucker captures from sampling (335) and detections from remote monitoring (943) showed high abundance across all three years. The razorback sucker population estimate for 2017 alone was 755 individuals and, relative to recent population estimates ranging from ~2000 to ~4000 individuals, suggests a substantial population exists seasonally downstream of this barrier. Barriers to fish movement in rivers above reservoirs are not unique, thus the formation of this waterfall exemplifies how water development and hydrology can interact to cause unforeseen changes to a riverscape.
Cathcart CN, Pennock CA, Cheek CA, et al. Waterfall formation at a desert river–reservoir delta isolates endangered fishes. River Res Applic. 2018;34:948–956. https://doi.org/10.1002/rra.3341