Trout Unlimited today praised the Forest Service for releasing long-awaited groundwater policy guidelines that TU said are needed to protect pristine headwaters and healthy fish and wildlife habitat in our National Forests.
“Trout, salmon and other fish depend on cold, clean water in rivers and streams for their survival—cold water that often originates from groundwater flows,” said Trout Unlimited CEO Chris Wood. “Across the West, many of our rivers and prized fisheries face severe threats—including prolonged drought, devastating wildfires and climate change. These guidelines recognize that groundwater and surface waters are connected, and that we must manage the entire watershed to keep our streams and rivers healthy and resilient. TU applauds the Forest Service for its leadership in taking a comprehensive approach to water management.”
At present, TU said, the Forest Service’s water policy is limited to surface water, which hampers efforts to address water issues on a watershed-scale. The released draft guidelines would fill a gap in existing agency management oversight of water resources on national forests and grasslands.
“For years, TU has partnered with the Forest Service to restore damaged stream habitat and protect important backcountry areas,” said Laura Ziemer, senior policy advisor for TU’s Western Water Project. “But this has been a missing tool in management of our water resources. If we ignore groundwater, we leave some of our most valuable fisheries and headwaters streams at risk. With many parts of the West suffering from extreme drought, these new guidelines should help National Forests fulfill their vital water supply role and continue to provide cold, clean water to fish and people.”
Ziemer pointed to hard-rock mining operations as one example of potential threats to groundwater health. Some mining operations on public lands can intersect with groundwater supplies, she noted, depleting the resource and damaging nearby streams and trout fisheries. For example, the proposed Black Butte copper mine by Tintina Resources near Montana’s blue-ribbon trout fishery, the Smith River, will intercept significant groundwater in its mile-long, proposed exploratory “decline” or tunnel. The company will have to pump the groundwater out of its underground mine works—groundwater that was on its way to adjacent Sheep Creek. Sheep Creek can provide up to half of the Smith River’s flow at the popular Camp Baker, the launch site for river trips down the Smith. Moreover, important ecosystem features in Western national forests, such as fen marshes, depend on groundwater flows for their health.
TU said that hundreds of blue ribbon fisheries across the country will benefit directly from the new guidelines. Among them are some of the most famous trout streams of the American West, including Rock Creek in the Yolo National Forest in Montana, the upper White River in the White River National Forest in Colorado, the North Fork of the Clearwater River in the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho, and the South Fork of the Trinity River in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California.
TU stated that the Forest Service should be able to amend its water policy manual without infringing on state-issued water rights or changing how state groundwater and surface water quality regulations affect National Forests and Grasslands.
“TU thanks the Forest Service for developing a comprehensive groundwater policy and submitting it for public review,” said Ziemer. “We look forward to working with the Forest Service and other stakeholders in this effort to conserve our water resources, fishing opportunities and outdoor quality of life.”
Trout Unlimited is the nation’s largest coldwater conservation organization, with 158,000 members dedicated to conserving, protecting, and restoring North America’s trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. Follow TU on Facebook and Twitter, and visit us online at tu.org