Delivering data to decision makers: The Idaho Water Tool

By Sean McFall

A recent collaboration between Trout Unlimited’s Idaho Water Project and Science Program will help ensure that projected impacts of climate change are incorporated into water resource work in Idaho.

While there are many different threats to Idaho’s native fishes, the growing impacts of climate change are projected to be the greatest existential threat to coldwater-dependent native bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout. Using a combination of information from the US Forest Services (USFS) Climate Shield dataset and the Idaho Water Resource Boards (IDWR) water rights database, TU has created the Idaho Water Transaction Tool which can quickly pinpoint the streams in Idaho with the highest likelihood of providing functional and survivable native fish habitat into the future, and identify water diversions which possibly compromise that habitat.

The data visualization provides a wealth of data to work with. First and foremost, the Climate Shield data allows the user to identify any 15,000 acre subwatershed where bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout currently occur, and the likelihood that those populations will persist in the future.

Next, after selecting a subwatershed for inspection, the tool can point to a variety of unique water rights data: the owner of the water rights in the subwatershed, the amount they are authorized to divert, where the water is diverted and used, and ownership of the underlying property.

By combining these two powerful datasets, the Idaho Water Transaction Tool delivers to the desktop of Idaho water project staff rich and targeted information to make preliminary assessments regarding the specific need for water transactions in subwatersheds around Idaho.

Follow-up will include consultation with Idaho Fish and Game, land managers, the water right owner and site visits. The Sportsmen Conservation Project can also assess land protection needs of subwatersheds due to the tool’s easy access to underlying land ownership data. In addition, because the tool is built from public information it is also available to interested organizations outside of Trout Unlimited, further leveraging the value of our work.

In total, this tool places powerful and relevant data into the hands of TU staff, land managers and decision-makers so that it’s easier and more efficient to protect our rivers.

By Shauna Stephenson.