Low Flows Leave Fish High and Dry

It’s pretty obvious—trout need water. Without enough of the wet stuff, they simply don’t have a chance. To really thrive, trout need not only water quality—cold and clean—but also water quantity.  In fact, the two are related: Without sufficient flows, rivers and streams can become warm and choked with algae and sediment, turning once stellar fishing destinations into sad trickles of their former selves.

Today, one of the biggest threats to trout and fishing opportunity is low stream flows, caused by various pressures, from development and agricultural diversions to drought and a changing climate. In the arid West, many river systems are overtapped—with important spawning tributaries often reduced to bare cobbles. 

Dry stream bed

Trout Unlimited is working hard to address stream flow problems and keep the fish—and the great fishing—afloat.  

Keeping Water in the Stream

Throughout the West, TU is pursuing scores of cooperative, shovel-ready projects to keep our rivers and streams flowing and healthy. This is a tremendous conservation opportunity. In many cases, agriculture infrastructure can be updated in a way that improves operations while reducing pressure on streams and fish. A typical TU project might help a landowner secure funding to upgrade irrigation systems or install new headgates on ditches. The increased efficiency and control means more water left in the stream during the heat and low flows of late summer to ensure healthy streams and habitat. Everyone wins—the rancher gets a modernized, low-maintenance system, and fish and wildlife get the healthy flows they need to thrive. TU is also pursuing water banking, voluntary water leasing and other strategies that make the best use of finite water supplies.

In a region where battles between landowners, agencies and environmentalists often dominate the headlines, TU is quietly working with diverse partners on projects that preserve trout habitat, restore healthy water flows and make fishing better. These projects demonstrate that collaborative, win-win water solutions can ensure river health and our angling future.

It’s About Collaboration

On Badger Creek in Idaho, a key bull trout spawning area, ranch diversion structures removed almost all flows from the stream during the summer, effectively cutting off access to upstream spawning and rearing areas for trout. TU collaborated with landowners and federal and state partners to find a water solution that met the needs of both farmers and fish. TU secured funding from several federal programs and coordinated the conversion of several ranch operations from flood to sprinkler irrigation. The result: less water diverted from the creek while ranch productivity increased. A nearly dewatered reach of the creek came back to life, and trout were spawning there just a week after the project was completed.

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