Aspinall Unit Environment
Upon completion of Blue Mesa Dam in 1965, Blue Mesa Reservoir began filling and soon became the largest body of water in Colorado. Blue Mesa Reservoir rapidly developed into a premier coldwater fishery for kokanee salmon and rainbow trout. After the later completion of Morrow Point Dam and Crystal Dam downstream, water began filling the narrow, rocky canyons forming Morrow Point Reservoir and Crystal Reservoir. Although Morrow Point and Crystal Reservoirs are difficult to access, the sheer cliffs surrounding these reseroirs provide unparalleled scenery. Nearly one million visitors enjoy the water-based recreation available at the Aspinall Unit reservoirs each year.
The Gunnison River downstream of the Aspinall Unit dams, has developed into a gold medal quality trout fishery due to the stable releases of cold water from deep in the reservoirs. Reclamation has acquired public fishing easements on the Gunnison River and Lake Fork of the Gunnison River to help replace stream fishing inundated by the reservoirs. The Gunnison and Cimarron State Wildlife areas were acquired and developed as the Aspinall Unit was constructed, to replace wildlife habitat lost with the filling of the reservoirs.
The endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker are found in the lower portions of the Gunnison River 50 miles (approximately 80 kilometers) downstream of the reservoirs, and in the Colorado River where the temperatures have warmed. Endangered fish habitats are being studied as part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program (Recovery Program) to determine reservoir releases that will benefit these species. The Recovery Program was established in 1988 as a coalition of federal, state and private organizations and agencies in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, to recover the endangered Colorado River Basin fish while allowing for future water development for agricultural, hydroelectric and municipal uses.