November 13, 2017

Returning Water to Salmon Streams High in the Sawtooth Mountains

Photography | WRC is working to conserve Goat Falls Ranch and dedicate its water in-stream for fish and wildlife. Photos by Kirk Anderson; salmon image Barrie Kovish.

Western Rivers Conservancy is about to set a new precedent for river conservation in Idaho. In the Sawtooth Valley, at the headwaters of the Salmon River, we recently purchased a property called Goat Falls Ranch. The ranch has key water rights on Goat and Meadow creeks, two critical headwater streams that once contained some of the best rearing habitat for Chinook salmon in the entire Columbia Basin.

Now that we own the ranch, we are partnering with the Idaho Water Resource Board to keep the ranch’s water permanently in-stream for the benefit of fish and wildlife. When complete, the project will be Idaho’s first permanent water-rights acquisition to dedicate water in-stream. At Goat Falls Ranch, this will be a tremendous benefit for imperiled salmon and steelhead.

The fish that spawn and rear in Goat and Meadow creeks swim over 900 miles from the Pacific to get there. It is part of the longest anadromous journey on Earth, with the added obstacles of eight massive dams along the way. Our efforts will ensure that when these salmon finally arrive in their natal streams, they’ll find healthy habitat and plenty of water for their rearing offspring.

The Idaho Water Resource Board will purchase the ranch’s water rights utilizing funding from the Columbia Basin Water Transaction Program. We plan to convey the water rights to IWRB by early 2018 and the ranchlands to the Sawtooth National Forest for conservation and management within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Ultimately, our efforts will ensure the creeks’ water stays in-stream all year, including late summer and early fall, when rivers are low and fish and wildlife need that water the most.

We hope this effort paves the way for similar water-rights projects in Idaho and that the process itself becomes a tool that we, and others, can use in our greater efforts to conserve the rivers of the West. Of all the challenges that salmon face today, two of the biggest are finding clean, cold water and healthy habitat. At Goat Falls Ranch, we can ensure that salmon find both at the end of their long journey, in two critical streams where life begins anew.

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