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Game and Fish Proposes Two Instream Flow Water Rights to Protect Native Trout

CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is seeking instream flow water rights for segments of Rock Creek and Trail Ridge Creek in the upper Green River basin. Both segments are entirely on public lands in the Pinedale Region. The proposed 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. It is based on the same laws used for other kinds of water rights.

“Water is the most important part of fish habitat. Maintaining adequate amounts of 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 the two creeks in 2016 to determine flows needed to maintain the existing Colorado River cutthroat trout populations. The proposed water rights would protect flows in seven miles of the streams. Information about the proposed instream flow segments can be viewed on the Game and Fish website.

Both stream segments are within the Colorado River cutthroat trout’s native range. Habitat changes and non-native species have restricted Colorado River Cutthroat Trout to about 13% of its native range in Wyoming.

“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. “Protecting streamflows in these headwater streams will help conserve the remaining Wyoming populations of this species.”

Securing instream flow water rights has other benefits.

“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 of Wyoming, submitted the applications to the Wyoming State Engineer’s office and conducted a hydrologic feasibility study funded by Game and Fish.

Information about the applications can be viewed online.

The State Engineer’s Office is holding a public hearing at 9 a.m. May 25 at the Marbleton Town Hall to share information and receive comments on the proposed water rights. The hearing will be recorded and made available for anyone who is unable to attend. The public hearing is a benchmark in a multi-step process to acquire instream flow water rights. The process is detailed on the Game and Fish website.

For any questions about how to participate in the virtual public hearing, details of the applications or the subsequent meeting recording contact Jason Feltner at 307-777-8789 or jason.feltner@wyo.gov.

If the water rights are approved by the State Engineer following the public hearing, these two stream segments will add to the 123 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 permitted or adjudicated instream flow water rights for sport fisheries and native fish conservation.

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