Bureau of Reclamation Banner, Upper Colorado Region
Reclamation Home              Reclamation Offices              Newsroom              Library              Projects & Facilities
Title image: UC Region Colorado River Storage Project

Flaming Gorge Dam - Environment /
Adaptive Management

From 1979 to 1984, Flaming Gorge Dam operations were evaluated for potential effects on four endangered fish species found in the Green and Colorado River basins: Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker, and bonytail. Releases from the dam were modified from 1985 to 1991 in an effort to benefit the endangered fish and allow summer flow regimes in the Green River that could be tested and evaluated. In 1987, the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program (Recovery Program) was initiated to protect and recover the endangered fish species of the Upper Colorado River Basin so they no longer require protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The states of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah; Reclamation, Western Area Power Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and environmental, water and power user organizations, are all participants in the Recovery Program.

In 1992, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Biological Opinion on the operation of Flaming Gorge Dam which contained a reasonable and prudent alternative (RPA) to current operations of the dam which would not jeopardize the endangered fish.  Reclamation operated Flaming Gorge Dam to achieve the objectives described in the RPA from 1992 until February of 2006.  Part of this RPA was to conduct additional research to determine what flow and temperature conditions were necessary for the recovery of the endangered fish. In September of 2000, the recovery program issued the Flow and Temperature Recommendations for Endangered Fishes in the Green River Downstream of Flaming Gorge Dam (2000, Muth et. al.)

A Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Operation of Flaming Gorge Dam was finalized in November 2005 with a Record of Decision (ROD) following in February 2006. The EIS describes the effects of operating Flaming Gorge Dam to achieve the temperature and flows recommended in the September 2000 Flow and Temperature Recommendations (2000, Muth et. al.) and to comply with Section 7 of the ESA. Part of the commitments outlined in the ROD include implementation of an adaptive management approach for the long-term management of the dam to allow for future operational modifications based on continued research and new scientific information.

Implementation of an adaptive management process provides a framework for a collaborative, iterative process of experimentation, evaluation, and modification necessary to achieve improved results over time. As new knowledge is gained through the adaptive management process, operations can be refined to improve conditions for the four endangered fish while maintaining the authorized purposes of the dam.

The adaptive management process for Flaming Gorge Dam will rely on on-going or additional Recovery Program activities to monitor, study, and test the outcomes of flow modifications and release temperatures from Flaming Gorge Dam. The Flaming Gorge Working Group, which meets twice a year, will continue to function as the primary means of information gathering and dissemination with stakeholders, interested parties and the public. The Flaming Gorge Working Group is a forum where stakeholders and the public can share concerns and comments with Reclamation regarding the operation of Flaming Gorge Dam. 

The Flaming Gorge Technical Working Group (FGTWG) was established in 2006 as directed by the Flaming Gorge Record of Decision. This group is comprised of technical staff from Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Western Area Power Administration.  The purpose of the FGTWG is to develop operational proposals for how best to achieve ROD objectives each year based on hydrologic conditions and the conditions of the endangered fish. The FGTWG is also charged with integrating, to the extent possible, any flow requests from the Recovery Program into the flow proposal so Recovery Program research can also be facilitated.

Reclamation follows four planning steps when developing an operational plan for Flaming Gorge Dam. These steps are intended to integrate the concept of adaptive management into the planning process:

  1. Request for research flows from the Recovery Program
  2. Development of spring proposal from the FGTWG which incorporates the request with ROD objectives
  3. Solicitation of comments from the Flaming Gorge Working Group regarding the spring proposal
  4. Final decision from Reclamation on how best to achieve the objectives of the proposal


Last updated: November 25, 2008