- Leslie Steen, Northwest Wyoming Program Director, Trout Unlimited, firstname.lastname@example.org, 307-699-1022
- Cory Toye, Wyoming Water and Habitat Director, Trout Unlimited, email@example.com, 307-399-4623
- Kathleen Doffermyre, President, Jackson Hole Trout Unlimited, firstname.lastname@example.org, 804-874-6002
On behalf of Trout Unlimited and the Jackson Hole Chapter of Trout Unlimited, we would like to express our deep concern regarding the proposed reduction of flows from Jackson Lake Dam beginning on May 10th, 2023 by the Bureau of Reclamation.
Trout Unlimited (TU) has a long history of collaboration with numerous agencies and nonprofits in the Snake River watershed for the benefit of native fisheries and watershed health, including water management between Jackson Lake Dam and Palisades Reservoir in the Snake River. TU’s Snake River Headwaters Initiative is dedicated to reconnecting and restoring stream habitat in the watershed, which represents one of the most resilient and intact cutthroat trout fisheries in the lower 48 and is a core economic driver, generating over $20M in fishing-based revenue annually.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Jackson Hole TU chapter was instrumental in working with WY Senator and US Fish and Wildlife Service Director John Turner, the WY Governor’s Office, Wyoming Water Development Office (WWDO), Wyoming State Engineer’s Office (WSEO), Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), and the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to advocate for the purchase of a 33,000 a.f. Palisades storage water right owned by the State of Wyoming and able to be used to guarantee minimum flow releases of 280 cfs from Jackson Lake Dam for the protection of this area’s native fishery and aquatic ecosystem. In 2021, TU was involved in working with agency partners and community members to document the impacts of the relatively rapid ramp down of end-of-irrigation season flows from Jackson Lake as well as coordinate a public information session with partners. We are currently part of a core group of agencies and nonprofits working to establish a new watershed group for the Snake River Headwaters to collaboratively address the increasingly complex issues facing the watershed, including water management and drought.
TU has been tracking the recent negotiations between the Wyoming state entities, BOR regarding BOR’s proposal to reduce outflows from Jackson Lake Dam to 50 cfs as of May 10th for a period of approximately 50 days, into the end of June. We are incredibly grateful to the State of Wyoming for committing to use their storage account to augment flows during this time period. We also recognize the unique set of circumstances leading to this year’s management constraints in the Upper Snake River Basin – high snowpack following several years of drought and depleted storage water – and that the BOR has a complex set of operational demands and rules it must follow in its management of water and is currently under pressure from stakeholders in all directions.
TU shares the concerns expressed by the State of Wyoming, GTNP, agency partners, conservation nonprofits, elected officials, local businesses, and the community of Jackson Hole, regarding the detrimental resource impacts to the Snake River and its fishery, including Snake River cutthroat trout and bluehead suckers, two WY Species of Greatest Conservation Need, should flows from the dam be reduced to any level below 280 cfs, the absolute minimum flows determined by WGFD’s 1987 study by Tom Annear. As of now, according to projections, there is likely not enough water in the Wyoming storage account to guarantee flows at this level through the spring. In addition, we are concerned about the precedent of using Wyoming’s storage account for the first time, because while the circumstances leading up to this year’s water management constraints may be unique, climate change will make it more likely to reoccur in the future – and Wyoming’s storage account is not likely to be able to withstand demand for both spring and fall/winter releases. And, we are deeply concerned that if the Wyoming storage account is depleted in its entirety in spring 2023 and not refilled in full, there will not be sufficient water available for minimum instream flows in the upcoming fall, winter, and spring if needed.
We believe that it is of critical importance that minimum instream flows of 280 cfs are released from Jackson Lake Dam throughout the duration of spring 2023 and that the Wyoming storage account is replenished for future use.
- We therefore urge the State of Wyoming entities and Department of Interior (DOI) agencies (BOR and GTNP) to continue to work together to ensure that minimum instream flows of 280 cfs are released from Jackson Lake Dam throughout the duration of the proposed spring 2023 flow reduction period.
- We ask that the above entities take immediate action steps to acquire the additional storage water that may be needed – including investigation into availability and possible sources; communication and coordination to support the acquisition; and appropriation of funding. We ask that the BOR work with the water users of Idaho Water District #1 to help facilitate this acquisition.
- We also ask that the BOR continue to explore any alternative solutions that may be available on their end to maintain minimum flows.
- We ask that the DOI consider allocating funding to purchase Upper Snake River Basin Rental Pool water for this purpose as a solution to the current competing priorities for water between the BOR and National Park Service, as well as the risk of harm to native fish populations under the purview of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (all DOI agencies).
- We also ask that additional steps be taken by the above entities to ensure that Wyoming’s storage account is replenished before the fall. Funding allocated for this purpose could be set up in cooperation with the State of Wyoming as a revolving fund that can accrue or be debited depending on if Wyoming is interested in selling or needs to purchase rental pool water.
- If funding is not available from the above entities, we ask that a public-private partnership funding model be explored to complement available funding.
- We also ask that in the future DOI agencies work more collaboratively, as well as with additional stakeholders in the watershed, to proactively ensure that flow requirements for a healthy fishery and aquatic resource are met. We ask for the establishment of a more predictable collaborative decision-making framework for flow management that gives stakeholders more time to plan, provide input, and respond; investment into research and monitoring for improved forecasting to inform management decisions; as well as an investigation into any additional tools that may be available to ensure adequate water is available for protection of the Upper Snake River fishery through multiple future scenarios. We hope that TU and the soon-to-be created watershed group for the Snake River Headwaters can play a role in this effort.
The upper Snake River in Wyoming is a national treasure that flows through Grand Teton National Park, Bridger-Teton National Forest, and other public and private lands. This national Wild and Scenic corridor is the lifeblood of our community and the cornerstone of our recreation-based tourism economy. TU is committed to doing all we can to ensure that the fisheries and aquatic resources of the Snake River are protected into the future, so that our community, the people of Wyoming, and the entire nation can experience the joy of wild, native Snake River cutthroat trout and a healthy, flowing river. We look forward to working with a diverse group of stakeholders on short and long-term solutions.
Leslie Steen, Northwest Wyoming Program Director, Trout Unlimited
Cory Toye, Wyoming Water and Habitat Director, Trout Unlimited
Kathleen Doffermyre, President, Jackson Hole Trout Unlimited
Learn more by reading TU’s Jackson Lake Releases FAQ. Contact Leslie Steen with any questions you may have.
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.