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Yates SF Snake Comments

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Subject: Yates SF Snake Comments
Date: 11-May-08

Snake River Water Management An interview with Scott Yates, director of Trout Unlimited's Wyoming Water Project. Interview conducted by Bruce Smithhammer. [For more in-depth coverage of the Snake River—including a detailed float-access map, information on hatches, and details on the nearby Hoback anfd Gros Ventre rivers and Flat Creek—see "Exploring Jackson Hole" by Bruce Smithhammer in the July 2008 issue of Fly Fisherman (on sale now). THE EDITOR.] Q) In general, most folks seem to have been pleased with water management on the Snake over the last several seasons, but '07 seemed to be a different story. In your mind, how did water management differ in '07? A) It's important to recognize why folks have been happy with Bureau of Reclamation [BOR] water management over the past few years. The agency has put a lot of time and money into assessing how the upper Snake River storage system can be "re-operated" to take into account ecosystem needs such as native Yellowstone cutthroat protection and restoration. Existing water rights and storage rights are still priority number one, but in that context, they've reassessed the way they store and deliver water to identify potential ways water can be managed to meet both irrigation and ecosystem / fishery needs.

continue article The BOR's Ecologically Based System Management (EBSM) process for the Snake River below Palisades Dam study highlighted the importance of seasonal (spring) high flows in the South Fork system, and once they tried operating Palisades with that overall ecological goal in mind, they also began to look upstream at the potential ecological benefits that could accrue if they made sure that Jackson Dam was operated in tandem with Palisades. That's why we saw a few good years in a row where the BOR timed high flows out of Jackson Dam in a manner that for the most part coincided with the natural hydrograph (they moved Jackson Lake water down earlier to Palisades because they'd need to move it out of Palisades later in the summer for irrigation use anyway), and that took the edge off late-summer and early fall flows. So the BOR deserves credit for the way they've assessed and managed water operations over the last ten years in the upper Snake River Basin. I think more creative strides have been taken to protect trout fisheries while still meeting irrigation demand here than any other BOR system in the country. But that brings us to the summer of 2007, where the water year threw some curve balls: snow pack was average, there was little spring/summer precipitation, and the core of the summer in Idaho was really hot. So demand was about as high as it had ever been for storage water. In addition, there were considerations pertaining to water user demand and crop selection that drove late-season water demands in Idaho. Q) What sort of impacts do you think this may have had, not just on fishing quality but on the ecosystem itself? A) I think the short-term ecosystem and fishery impacts are likely minor. At the same time, there could be long-term impacts if this becomes standard-issue management by the BoR. I'd like to think the 2007 water year was reflective of unique dynamics and that the BOR will be ready the next time to respond accordingly (by moving more water down from Jackson to Palisades earlier to avoid the late surge), but only time will tell. Q) What is TU's involvement in providing input for Snake River water management? A) Trout Unlimited worked with the BOR closely regarding the EBSM process and have participated in a number of forums on the South Fork, Henry's Fork—including the development of a Drought Management Plan—and upper Snake River over the years. We generally attend water year specific meetings and updates hosted by the BOR and schedule additional meetings when necessary to discuss water management issues. Our Western Water Project Offices (especially in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Colorado) work on BOR water management issues that impact trout fisheries throughout the west. Q) Do you think we'll see significant changes in the water laws that govern the Snake in the foreseeable future? A) Trout Unlimited advocates for modest changes to Wyoming water laws—such changes would be non-regulatory and emphasize market-based scenarios driven by landowner needs and incentive-based transactions. But BOR water management is a little different animal. It's a complex mix of federal and state law, and in the case of the upper Snake River, it's driven by an interstate compact where Idaho owns approximately 96% of the storage water. While I'm not necessarily optimistic that the underlying federal or state laws will change governing water use and delivery in the BOR system, I am optimistic that the Bureau and other agency, water user, and conservation group stakeholders will recognize and take advantage of new information and partnership opportunities to better protect fishery resources in the future. The model in the upper Snake over the past ten years is bold new territory—we just need to keep communicating and adaptively manage the system. We're going to need this type of flexibility in light of the current thinking regarding climate change and the uncertainty such change presents. For more information about TU's Western Water Project in Wyoming, go to: tu.org/site/c.kkLRJ7MSKtH/b.3082775/k.DBE0/Wyoming.htm

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