Building a better river: Rico Diversion project improves fish passage and bank stability

The Star Valley fish passage project serves as a model for other conservation-minded private landowners.


December 1, 2023


ETNA, WYOMING – Trout Unlimited is on the brink of completing the Rico Diversion Fish Passage and Stabilization Project, aimed at stabilizing river banks and enhancing fish passage for Snake River Cutthroat Trout on the Salt River near Etna, Wyoming as well as serving as a model for other conservation-minded private landowners.

The existing diversion at Rico has long been recognized as an impediment to fish passage, requiring annual river disturbance for maintenance and posing a hazard to boaters navigating the area. Additionally, earlier this year, spring runoff threatened existing infrastructure due to unstable riverbanks and enormous flows. In response to these challenges, Trout Unlimited has undertaken an ambitious project that demonstrates how private landowners along the Salt River can simultaneously address land loss, instability, and irrigation infrastructure repairs while improving fish habitat, passage, and watershed health.  It is the first step towards large-scale habitat restoration and fish passage improvements in the watershed envisioned by Trout Unlimited and the Salt River Watershed Group.

The heart of the project involves the replacement of the outdated diversion with a permanent engineered rock vane structure. This innovative design not only ensures the safe passage of fish, channel stability, and reliable water for irrigators, but also addresses concerns for boater safety, making the area more navigable and secure. Furthermore, the project employs cutting-edge bioengineering techniques to stabilize eroding banks, protect infrastructure, and reestablish riparian buffers, contributing to the overall health of the ecosystem.

As construction approaches its final stages, approximately 1,750 feet of river channel will be restored and stabilized, providing an immediate boost to habitat for Snake River Cutthroat Trout in the Salt River.  Trout Unlimited remains committed to delivering tangible, positive impacts to the aquatic environment through this comprehensive conservation effort.

In addition to the direct benefits to native and wild fish populations, the Rico Diversion Fish Passage and Stabilization Project is designed to have lasting positive effects on the local community. Beyond fostering a healthier aquatic ecosystem, the project is poised to benefit local landowners, irrigators, and recreationists in the long term.

“The Rico Diversion Fish Passage and Stabilization Project is on track for completion in early December. This project is a significant improvement to the Salt River watershed as we work to stabilize the riverbank and enhance wildlife habitat for generations to come. We are grateful to all the partners, landowners, irrigators, and contractors that worked with us to get this project implemented in record time,” said Tanner Belknap, Salt River Watershed Manager at Trout Unlimited.

The Rico Diversion Fish Passage and Stabilization Project stands as a testament to the power of collaborative conservation efforts and the positive impact they can have on our coldwater resources. The project would not be possible without support from various partners: Jackson Hole One Fly, Jackson Hole Trout Unlimited, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust, and the landowners and irrigators involved.


Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to caring for and recovering America’s rivers and streams so our children can experience the joy of wild and native trout and salmon. Across the country, TU brings to bear local, regional, and national grassroots organizing, durable partnerships, science-backed policy muscle, and legal firepower on behalf of trout and salmon fisheries, healthy waters and vibrant communities.