The Rainey Creek Restoration Project is the largest restoration project Trout Unlimited (TU) has undertaken to date to fight the population decline of Yellowstone cutthroat trout (YCT) in the South Fork Snake River.
The project began in 2004 with community meetings to select a restoration alternative from the Water Use and Efficiency Analysis prepared by the US Bureau of Reclamation (BOR). This analysis concluded there were nine diversions on Rainey Creek that are barriers for migrating YCT to historic spawning waters located on Caribou-Targhee National Forest (CTNF) land. To create a more natural stream with better habitat for fish, it was also determined the stream needed to be relocated to its historical location on the McGrath property.
On-the-ground activities began in 2005 with the placement of four v-shaped rock weirs below the McGrath check. The weirs raise the water level by creating a gradual step effect allowing migrating YCT to pass over the check.
Construction continued in 2006 with the channel relocation on the McGrath property. Over time the channel had been straightened for irrigation practices. Not only was this detrimental to fish, but also created negative effects for waterfowl nesting in the area known as Miller’s Slough. Over 1,700 feet of channel were relocated to their historic location and revegetated, creating a more natural stream, taking advantage of the existing overhead vegetation (creating cooler water for fish), and allowing the creek a better way into Miller’s Slough. A nesting pair of trumpeter swans has been sighted using the new channel.
During the spring of 2007 our efforts turned to the two bottom diversions on Rainey Creek known as the Griffel Diversion and Weeks Diversion. Each diversion was fitted with a custom-built fish ladder passable by YCT and the outgoing ditches screened to prevent fish entrainment. The riparian areas were fenced to exclude livestock from intrusion and will be revegetated to provide bank stabilization and better habitat areas for fish.
Over the next several years, restoration efforts will move upstream modifying/replacing the remaining barriers. Several of the points of diversion will be combined creating fewer diversions on the stream.
Since Spring 2007, the project has made the following progress:
In Fall of 2008 we will eliminate one of the Shurtleff Gottsche diversions and consolidate the others into one structure. The primary goals of this project are fish passage and screening of the outgoing ditch and improved water delivery and measurement. Economically, it makes sense to bring these two diversions together because of their close proximity to one another and because the Shurtleff diversion is being abandoned by the creek over time.
This Fall we will also be installing V-shaped instream weirs to enable fish to traverse the Caboose Culvert. This culvert is perched and is a barrier in low water conditions. We intend to create a series of pools on the downstream side to elevate the water surface so that fish can better get through the culvert. We will also install V-shaped bracing through the bottom of the culvert to further reduce water velocities and to help fish pass through.
The relationships that have been forged during this project have resulted in a strong partnership that is making major strides in not only protecting YCT, but in helping to ensure the interests of the individual landowner are met.
A project of this magnitude would be possible without the cooperation of all the partners, including: