Chalk Creek is an important tributary to Utah’s Weber River. This river drains the Wasatch Mountains directly west of Salt Lake City and eventually flows through Ogden, Utah, before joining the Ogden River and emptying into the Great Salt Lake.
Chalk Creek represents one of the largest networks of intact habitat for the at-risk Bonneville Cutthroat trout and many other native fish and wildlife species. However, an irrigation diversion dam in the South Fork of Chalk Creek diverts most of the water out of the stream during summer months and blocks fish migrations for trout and other native fish, preventing them from accessing important spawning habitat and coldwater refuge areas in the intact upper reaches of the stream. If a lack of flows and passage inhibit these fish from moving into colder, headwater habitats like the South Fork of Chalk Creek, they cannot survive.
BEF partnered with Trout Unlimited to support this WRC project and restore water to a critically dewatered reach of the Chalk Creek watershed. The project was developed by Trout Unlimited in close collaboration with a local rancher to completely retrofit the ranch’s approach to using water. To accomplish this, the project partners will first install efficient, center pivot sprinkler systems that use much less water than the ranch’s historical irrigation methods that at one time included flooding the land with water diverted from the stream.
Second, the project relocates the point at which water is diverted from the stream. Instead of diverting almost all of the water from the South Fork of Chalk Creek (both dewatering the stream and blocking passage for fish), the new approach draws water from a different location, further downstream on Chalk Creek. This change allows the rancher to continue irrigating while restoring stream flow to over a mile of Chalk Creek. The result restores water to a previously dewatered section of the creek and facilitates passage for fish into over 22 miles of key spawning habitat for Bonneville Cutthroat trout.
During dry summer periods, this project will restore over one cubic foot per second of stream flow to a critically dewatered stream reach—60 million gallons per year. Companies in Utah and elsewhere are purchasing Watershed Restoration Certificates that provide funding to support this project and balance their water use footprint with water restored to Chalk Creek. Projects like this help sustain rural economies and balance competing demands for water—a precious and scarce resource in the arid interior West.
One of the key strengths of this project is that it works with farmers and ranchers to find solutions that simultaneously meet their needs and the needs of rivers and fish. This is illustrated by the fact that it includes state-of-the-art irrigation upgrades that make land more productive while reducing water use at the same time. The project may also at some point even incorporate solar or other new technologies to offset the energy costs associated with diverting and pumping water from a new location.
* Project supports voluntary transactions to change, reduce or stop water use – either temporarily or permanently – to protect or restore water for environmental benefit