WYOMING — The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) is seeking water rights for three stream segments with crucial native trout habitat up for streamflow protection, the agency announced Monday.
The WGFD is seeking instream flow water rights for segments of Crandall Creek, Dead Indian Creek and Muddy Creek in the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River basin. All three segments are entirely on public lands.
According to Game and Fish, instream flow water rights are one of the tools Game and Fish uses to protect fish habitat and essential river functions; these rights ensure water keeps flowing in streams for fisheries while protecting existing water users.
“Water is the most important part of fish habitat,” Del Lobb, Game and Fish instream flow biologist said. “Maintaining adequate amounts of water in streams year-round is critical for maintaining and improving the long-term health of fish populations.”
Game and Fish says they conducted instream flow investigations on the three creeks in 2014 to determine flows needed to maintain the existing Yellowstone cutthroat populations. The proposed water rights would protect flows in a total of 10 stream miles within the Yellowstone cutthroat trout’s native range.
“Securing these 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 nonnative species have restricted Yellowstone cutthroat trout to about 47 percent of its native range in Wyoming, Game and Fish said.
“Protecting streamflows in these headwater streams will help conserve the remaining Wyoming populations of this species,” Lobb said.
“Instream flows don’t just benefit the Wyoming residents who fish,” Lobb said. “They also help Wyoming’s tourism industry, which largely depends on flowing streams that provide angling and boating opportunities and enhance sight-seeing, hiking, hunting and camping.”
Game and Fish prepared three 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 water availability study funded by Game and Fish.
The State Engineer’s Office is holding a public hearing on Nov. 16 at 9 a.m. at the Cody Regional Game and Fish office to share information and receive comments on the proposed water rights. The hearing will be recorded and made available for anyone unable to attend. The public hearing is a benchmark in a multi-step process to acquire instream flow water rights, Game and Fish says.
If the water rights are approved by the State Engineer following the public hearing, these three stream segments will add to the 123 instream flow segments already secured for fisheries 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.