JACKSON, Wyo. — Grand Teton National Park (GTNP), Trout Unlimited, Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF), and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) announced today, Nov. 12 that construction to complete Phase 2 of the Spread Creek Fish Passage Project has started.
Many years in the making, the project is a large-scale collaborative effort aimed at preventing future losses of migratory cutthroat trout and other native fish by installing a fish screen on the Spread Creek irrigation system. It will also make much-needed improvements to stabilize the diversion structure and channel within the project area, which have been damaged by flooding.
In 2010, the Spread Creek dam, an obsolete, crumbling diversion dam for irrigation located just outside of GTNP on BTNF lands was removed by a partnership effort led by Trout Unlimited, opening up well over 50 miles of the Spread Creek watershed to migratory Snake River cutthroat trout for the first time in more than 50 years. Since the dam was removed and replaced with a fish passage-friendly diversion structure and new water delivery system, project partners have documented successful fish movement through the Spread Creek watershed – but have also discovered that native fish are being trapped in the Spread Creek irrigation system as they migrate downstream.
“It has been exciting to see Spread Creek being utilized by fish from the Snake River. Not only have we documented the movement of Snake River Cutthroat Trout into Spread Creek, but also other native species like Bluehead Sucker, which are a species of concern in Wyoming. Unfortunately, along with this upstream movement, we have seen both juvenile and adult fish become trapped in the Spread Creek ditch system and we are looking forward to the installation of the fish screen to eliminate this fish loss,” said Diana Miller, fisheries biologist with the WGFD.
In addition, Spread Creek is a highly dynamic system, and water users including GTNP, Triangle X Ranch, Moosehead Ranch, and Pinto Ranch have experienced issues with getting irrigation water during high water years due to damage to infrastructure, scouring, and sedimentation. The current, second phase of the Spread Creek Fish Passage Project not only addresses native fish entrapment issues but also meets the needs of irrigators and public land managers.
The three components of the project include:
- Installing a fish screen in the Spread Creek irrigation system that delivers water to ditches while returning trapped fish safely back to Spread Creek through a bypass pipe
- Rehabilitating the irrigation diversion structure for long-term stability and optimal fish passage conditions
- Adding instream structures to protect banks and irrigation infrastructure within the project area.
“Spread Creek is a vital part of the Snake River headwaters ecosystem, and we are committed to protecting the iconic and important fisheries across agency and jurisdictional boundaries. This project is the culmination of over a decade of effort to remove a dam and restore this significant fishery, while maintaining water supply for local irrigators. Through resounding multi-agency and partner support and collaboration, we’re continuing to progress towards and ultimately achieve this lofty goal,” said Chip Jenkins, GTNP Superintendent.
Over 20 partners have contributed to the success of the project, which has a budget of over $1.5 million in financial and in-kind support from partners. Funding has been provided by the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, Desert Fish Habitat Partnership, Jackson Hole Trout Unlimited, Jackson Hole One Fly, National Forest Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation: Bring Back the Natives, Snake River Fund, Teton Conservation District, US Fish and Wildlife Service Fish Passage, Vail Resorts Epic Promise, Western Native Trout Initiative, Wildlife Tourism for Tomorrow via The WYldlife Fund, WorldCast Anglers, WY Department of Environmental Quality, WY Game and Fish Department, WY Water Development Commission, WY Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust, and private donors.
Technical and in-kind support in the form of project administration, management, review, monitoring, and permitting has been contributed by the GTNP, BTNF, and WGFD. Over $300,000 in large boulders needed for the project’s instream structures were donated by GTNP, and trees with rootwads have been donated by BTNF.
“This project was advantageous to the Forest Service in that through this cooperation we were able to work with our partners to sustain these valuable resources. Our work to protect, restore, and enhance fisheries and stream passages has become increasingly integrated across Forest Service mission areas and disciplines and ever more collaborative. As we continue this partnership, we will ensure that abundant fish and aquatic resources and healthy aquatic habitats are available for Americans to enjoy both now and for generations to come,” said BTNF Public Affairs Officer Mary Cernicek.
“I think what’s been the most energizing part of the project is the incredible amount of support we’ve received from partners and community members, many of whom were not only involved in the dam removal phase of the project over a decade ago, but also doubled and tripled down to provide funding as the scope and costs climbed,” said Leslie Steen, Trout Unlimited’s NW Wyoming Program Director. “They really stuck by us and our shared vision of a healthy, thriving Spread Creek watershed free of barriers to migrating native fish.”
The Spread Creek Fish Passage Project Phase 2 is projected to be completed by spring 2022, and has included volunteer support of the fish rescues and restoration work. It is a project of TU’s Snake River Headwaters Home Rivers Initiative, an ambitious initiative to restore and protect the headwaters of the Snake River and its fishery, together with a diverse group of community, landowner, and agency partners.