The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is currently seeking instream flow water rights for parts of Rock Creek and Trail Ridge Creek, located in the upper Green River basin. Both of these creek sections are located on public lands in the Pinedale Region. The aim of these proposed water rights is to preserve the Colorado River cutthroat trout populations within their native territory.
Instream flow water rights are a significant resource that the Game and Fish Department employs to safeguard fish habitats and maintain the essential functions of rivers. These rights guarantee that water continues to flow in the streams for the benefit of the fisheries, while also protecting the interests of existing water users. This system operates on the same legal principles that apply to other types of water rights.
As Del Lobb, an instream flow biologist with Game and Fish, explains, “Water is a fundamental component of fish habitat. Ensuring sufficient water supply in the streams throughout the year is vital for the preservation and improvement of long-term fish population health.”
In 2016, the Game and Fish Department investigated both creeks to determine the water flows necessary to preserve existing Colorado River cutthroat trout populations. The proposed water rights aim to safeguard the water flows across seven miles of these streams. More details about these proposed instream flow segments are mapped on the Game and Fish website.
Fish & Tourism.
Both creek sections are part of the Colorado River cutthroat trout’s native range. However, habitat changes and the introduction of non-native species have limited this fish species to approximately 13% of its original range in Wyoming. Securing these water rights would ensure the streams continue to flow naturally, providing a crucial habitat for the trout, supporting their spawning, migration, and year-round survival. This action would contribute to the conservation of this fish species’ remaining populations in Wyoming.
Instream flow water rights also yield additional advantages. As Lobb highlights, they contribute to Wyoming’s tourism industry, which relies on flowing streams for fishing and boating, as well as enhancing activities like sightseeing, hiking, hunting, and camping.
Public Hearings and Further Information.
The Game and Fish Department has prepared two applications for these instream flow water rights. The Wyoming Water Development Office, representing the State of Wyoming, submitted the applications to the Wyoming State Engineer’s office and carried out a hydrologic feasibility study funded by Game and Fish.
A public hearing will be held by the State Engineer’s Office at 9 a.m. on May 25 at the Marbleton Town Hall to provide information and gather comments on the proposed water rights. The meeting will be recorded and made available for those unable to attend. This public hearing marks a significant stage in the multi-step process to acquire instream flow water rights.
If the water rights are approved following the public hearing, these two creek segments will join the 123 instream flow segments already secured for fish conservation in Wyoming. At present, 512 miles of the more than 25,000 miles of streams hosting fisheries in Wyoming have permitted or adjudicated instream flow water rights for sport fisheries and native fish conservation.