Waters to Watch

A list assembled by the nation’s leading authorities on aquatic conservation to create cleaner and healthier habitats for the many fish and wilfdlife species and people who call these areas home

So what is Waters to watch and why Should I care?

The 10 Waters to Watch list, assembled by the nation’s leading authorities on aquatic conservation, is a collection of rivers, streams and shores that will be cleaner and healthier habitats for the many fish and wildlife species and people who call these areas home.

Thanks to the combined actions of concerned community groups, non-profit organizations, local watershed groups, Native American tribes and state and federal agencies, these waters are being improved by planting stream-side vegetation, removing structures blocking fish from habitat and protecting bodies of water from the effects of industrial processes, agriculture and livestock.

They are representative of freshwater to marine waters across the country including lakes and reservoirs that are improving through the conservation efforts of the National Fish Habitat Action Plan — a bold initiative to reverse persistent declines in aquatic habitat.

1. Bayou Pierre and Tributaries in Copiah, Hinds, and Lincoln Counties, Mississippi

Project Submission by: The Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership

Purpose of the project: Extensive headcutting has resulted in increased sediment loads within Bayou Pierre and its tributaries, which has negatively impacted habitats used by several fish species including the Federally threatened bayou darter. Over 50% of the land adjacent to Bayou Pierre has been converted to fields or pastures causing increased bank erosion and sediment loads. The purpose of this project will install conservation measures to reduce sediment and improve water quality within the Bayou Pierre systems by leveraging existing conservation practices available through programs in NRCS and other landowner assistance programs.
Human Interest/Community Benefit: The bayou darter is only found in the Bayou Pierre River and its tributaries. Habitat degradation due to increased sedimentation has been identified as a major contributor to the reduction in bayou darter numbers. This system also is important to a number of other fish species and local recreation users. Numerous game fish occur in the Bayou Pierre and will be benefited by this project including white bass, spotted bass, largemouth bass, black crappie, white crappie, bluegill, warmouth, green sunfish, black bullhead catfish, longear sunfish, and redear sunfish. These populations will increase through habitat restoration. These projects will also increase food sources for these game species and benefit the bayou darter, a Federally threatened species, endemic to the Bayou Pierre River and its tributaries.

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2. Big River, California

Project Submission by: The California Fish Passage Forum

Purpose of the Project: The project restored access for coho salmon and steelhead trout to an estimated 4,000 feet of potential spawning and rearing habitat in the upstream reaches of Manly Gulch, a tributary to the Little North Fork of the Big River, that was previously flowing through Camp 3 and a parking lot. Camp 3 was part of the New Deal, constructed in the 1930s by the WPA and the CCC – it was conceived as a place to introduce people to the world of nature. Annually, juvenile coho and steelhead were observed stranded in drying pools in the aggraded reaches and in the road ditch that conveys Manly Gulch into Rocky Gulch. These conditions allowed the project area to be classified as a RED (100%) barrier for both adult and juvenile salmonid ingress and egress to and from Manly Gulch. The specific objective consisted of restoration and realigning 600 feet of Manly Gulch to connect directly to the LNF of the Big River. This included a 70-foot long backwater alcove and 530 feet of large-wood controlled channel with gravel riffles, pools and large wood cover structure. The project also included installation of a new bridge crossing over Manly Gulch where it crosses State Park Road. The direct connection between Manly Gulch to the LNF Big also improved both flow conveyance and sediment transport continuity within Manly Gulch from upstream of the project area to the LNF Big, thus improving fisheries access and habitat, geomorphic function, and reducing risk of fish stranding. The project also provided off-channel high-flow refugia for juvenile salmonids during elevated flows in the Little North Fork of the Big River.

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3. Bitter Creek, Wyoming

Project Submission by: The Desert Fish Habitat Partnership

Purpose of the project: Located just outside of Rock Springs, Wyoming is Bitter Creek, an 80 mile stretch of stream that provides important habitat to many species of fish, including the native Flannelmouth Sucker, a species that has been identified as one of greatest conservation need. To ensure the Flannelmouth Sucker continues to flourish in Bitter Creek the Desert Fish Habitat Partnership, Anadarko, BLM, Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative (WLCI), the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department have partnered up to replace a failing drop structure. Over the last 40 years this drop structure has helped protect Flannelmouth Sucker populations by providing a fish barrier to invasive White Suckers, a species that is able to hybridize with Flannelmouth Suckers.

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4. Blanco River, Texas

Project Submission by: The Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership

Purpose of the project:
The purpose of this project was to implement landscape-scale conservation through a network of landowners that would willingly take restoration actions to address issues and threats that degrade water quality, reduce water quantity, and degrade riparian habitats that in turn favor exotic species. This network of willing landowners and subsequent habitat to support the repatriation of Guadalupe bass in the upper portion of the Blanco River. SARP funds were leveraged with state invasive species funds to combat the spread of invasive species that degrade instream and riparian habitats. A historic flood in May 2015 brought intense public interest in riparian restoration. Human Interest/Community Benefit:
The Blanco River is one of the primary river networks in the Edwards Plateau that residents in Austin, San Marcos, San Antonio, and surrounding communities depend upon for drinking water, flood abatement, agricultural production as well as recreation (e.g. fly fishing, paddling, and birding. The number of Texans that participate in paddle sports has increased 300% over 10 years. According to TPWD, the economic impact of stream fishing in the Edward’s Plateau if valued at over $74M. This project will expand fishing opportunities for the State Fish of Texas to a river that is geographically located in the center of Austin-San Antonio corridor.

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5. Deep Creek Town Diversion, Oregon

Project Submission by: The Western Native Trout Initiative

Purpose of the project: Restoring fish passage for Warner Lakes Redband Trout (State and Federal Sensitive species) and Warner Sucker (Endangered Species Act Threatened species) is the focus of this project. The primary limiting factor for fish in the Warner Valley Watershed (Oregon) is passage at irrigation diversion structures, especially on Deep and Honey Creeks. Limited water in the eastern Oregon desert means that Warner Basin streams are a critical water source to both irrigators and native fish. Several Warner Basin streams provide both irrigation water critical to local ranches, and spawning, rearing, and migratory habitat for Warner Basin Redband Trout, Warner sucker, and other native fishes. The low-lying portion of the Warner Basin provides the most fertile agricultural land in the area, as well as stream reaches critical to fish migrating from the large lakes in the valley upstream to high-quality spawning and rearing habitats. More than 10 diversions exist in the lower basin that provides water to irrigators and have been identified as fish passage barriers. The diversions make it impossible for large fish that rear in the Warner Lakes to access the prime spawning grounds in the upper basin on lands primarily administered by the Lakeview Bureau of Land Management and the Fremont Winema National Forest.

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6. Five Springs complex at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Nevada

Project Submission by: The Desert Fish Habitat Partnership

Purpose of the project: The Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) supports the only endemic population of the critically endangered Ash Meadows Amargosa Pupfish and the Ash Meadows Speckled Dace. In an effort to address the direct threats of small population size, genetic isolation, and to improve aquatic habitat conditions for the pupfish the Ash Meadows NWR, the Nevada Department of Wildlife, and numerous other partners are working together to restore natural hydrologic connectivity between the Five Springs complex and downstream habitats. This project removed non-native species and restored the natural historic floods that were hindered by a road and fallow field. This restoration has benefitted the Ash Meadows Amargosa Pupfish, the Ash Meadows Speckled Dace, and numerous other plant and animal species by improved fish passage and connectivity through the removal of barriers and impoundments, yielding increased genetic exchange for the pupfish, and increasing the available habitat for both the pupfish and the speckled dace.

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7. Indian River, Alaska

Project Submission by: The Southeast Alaska Fish Habitat Partnership

Purpose of the project: Source Document for this submission: The Indian River watershed is an important asset with significant economic, ecological and cultural value to the community of Sitka, Alaska. In 2017, the Indian River Working Group was formed to improve communication and cooperation between different agencies, nonprofits, businesses, and community members with interests in the watershed. In addition to their participation as stakeholders, members also have voiced personal and organizational interest in ensuring that Indian River is managed to maintain or improve watershed values. These include trail systems, fishing and hunting opportunities, and exploring several hundred acres of intact old-growth forest just out Sitka’s back door. Primary goals informing the working group effort are: 1. Bring together stakeholders to develop a feasible watershed management strategy. 2. Provide a unique opportunity for collaboration and effective communication between stakeholders in the Indian River watershed. 3. Engage Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) to facilitate group discussions, manage data, develop partnerships and gain insights into watershed management techniques shared by other experienced natural resource managers serving in the working group. 4. Develop a prioritized list of action items to improve watershed stewardship and accomplish restoration objectives.

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8. East Branch Passumpsic River, Vermont

Project Submission by: The Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture

Purpose of the project: Removal of this deteriorating dam improves natural flow regimes, free-flowing river conditions, water quality and temperature, sediment release and transport, and connectivity resulting in the restoration of Aquatic Organism Passage for native Brook Trout, sculpin and minnows; opening 99 migratory miles throughout the East Branch of the Passumpsic River sub-watershed. In addition, 3.4 acres of shrub-scrub wetland will be enhanced by removal of the dam and subsequent restoration work. Human Interest/Community Benefit: The East Burke dam is the last Aquatic Organism Passage impediment on the East Branch Passumpsic River up to its headwaters, which allows native Brook Trout access to important spawning habitat and thermal refugia. The East Branch Passumpsic River is also a popular fishing destination for Brook Trout anglers who will benefit from a more robust fishery.

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9. Lake Shelbyville, Illinois

Project Submission by: The Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership

Purpose of the Project:
Lake Shelbyville is the second largest reservoir in Illinois and is an important recreational and economic feature in east-central Illinois. Habitat degradation threatens the viability of the fishery and the associated recreational and economic value. Lake Shelbyville has been impounded for 46+ years. Major habitat impairments include sedimentation due to sediment inputs from the watershed and shoreline erosion largely due to frequent water level fluctuations and loss of woody structure commensurate with the reservoir aging process. Very little dead standing timber remains in coves as most have decayed over the last 40 years. Long-duration floods, on occasion in excess of 12’, have further stranded woody habitat in uplands resulting in additional habitat loss. These floods have made conditions difficult for aquatic vegetation to establish. This lack of habitat and associated erosion and reduced water quality are negatively affecting the quality of the fishery and habitat restoration efforts have not kept up with losses. Standard management practices help maintain the quality of the fishery, but the standard reduction in quality with reservoir age continues with rippling economic effects throughout the community and region.

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10. Upper Sycan River, Oregon

Project Submission by: The Desert Fish Habitat Partnership

Purpose of the project: The upper Sycan River supports one of the few remaining populations for two species of lamprey, the Miller Lake lamprey, and Pit-Klamath brook lamprey and has been designated as critical habitat for bull trout. In an effort to improve aquatic habitat conditions for these species as well as the Klamath Speckled dace the Fremont-Winema National Forest, Paisley Ranger District, Lake County Umbrella Watershed Council, Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Desert Fish Habitat Partnership are working together to restore the riparian and floodplain functions along the river. Through a combination of historic grazing practices, timber harvest, and road construction throughout the years the project area has experienced a loss of riparian vegetation and an altered hydrologic regime. These changes have had a negative impact and have led to eroding streambanks which have resulted in a down cut channel, a disconnection to floodplain terraces, increased levels of fine sediment, and a lack of aquatic habitat connectivity.

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