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Game and Fish seeks to protect streamflows for Colorado River Cutthroat Trout

Cutthroat trout
Cutthroat trout(Wyoming Game and Fish)
Published: Aug. 11, 2020 at 12:10 AM CDT
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Release) - Two stream segments of crucial native trout habitat are proposed for streamflow protection in Wyoming. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is seeking instream flow water rights for sections of Trail Ridge Creek and Rock Creek in the Upper Green River drainage. The water rights are important to maintaining populations of Colorado River Cutthroat Trout in their native range. Instream flow water rights are one of the tools Game and Fish uses to protect fish habitat and essential river functions. The rights ensure water keeps flowing in streams for fisheries purposes,  while protecting existing water users, and it is based on the same laws used for other kinds of water rights. 

“Water is the most important part of fish habitat. Maintaining some water in streams year-round is critical for maintaining and improving the long-term health of fish populations,” said Del Lobb, instream flow biologist with Game and Fish. Game and Fish conducted instream flow investigations on both Trail Ridge Creek and Rock Creek in 2016 that determined the flows needed to maintain the existing Colorado River Cutthroat Trout populations. The Department has proposed protecting 2.7 miles along Trail Ridge Creek and 4.2 miles along Rock Creek, both in Sublette County. 

“Both stream segments are within the Colorado River Cutthroat Trout’s native range. Securing the water rights means the streams will continue to flow naturally and provide critical habitat for spawning, passage and year-round survival of this species,” Lobb said.  Habitat changes and non-native species have restricted Colorado River Cutthroat Trout to about 13% of its native range in Wyoming.  “Protecting streamflows in headwater streams like Rock Creek and Trail Ridge Creek will help conserve the remaining Wyoming populations of this species,” Lobb said.

Securing instream flow water rights has benefits for anglers and Wyoming, too.

“Instream flows benefit the 48% of Wyoming residents who fish. They also help Wyoming’s tourism industry, which in large part depends on flowing streams that provide angling and boating opportunities and enhance sight-seeing, hiking, hunting and camping,” Lobb said.

Game and Fish prepared two applications for the instream flow water rights. The Wyoming Water Development Office, the official applicant for the State, submitted the applications to the Wyoming State Engineer’s office and will be conducting a hydrologic feasibility study funded by Game and Fish. Information about the status of the applications can be viewed online.

Submittal of the applications is an early benchmark in a multi-step process to acquire the instream flow water rights. That process is detailed on the Game and Fish website. 

If approved by the State Engineer following a public hearing, these two stream sections will add to the 120 instream flow segments already secured for fish in Wyoming. Currently 512 miles — of the more than 25,000 miles of streams with fisheries in Wyoming — have instream flow water rights for sport fisheries and native fish conservation.

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