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Irrigated Eden and the Charmed Goose: A Thematic History of Water and Fisheries Management in the upper Snake River Basin. Rob Van Kirk Dept. of Mathematics Humboldt State University. Natural Resource Management Paradigm. Water management. Fisheries management. Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.

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Irrigated Eden and the Charmed Goose:

A Thematic History of Water and Fisheries Management in the upper Snake River Basin

Rob Van Kirk

Dept. of Mathematics

Humboldt State University


Natural Resource Management Paradigm

Water management

Fisheries management

Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer

Nonnative species

Hydrologic regime



  • Theme: dominant societal view of natural resources
  • Simplify and idealize to elucidate unintended consequences
  • Emphasize story rather than details
  • A new twist on “Goose that Laid the Golden Egg” problem
  • Recommendations to avoid further consequences in the face of:
    • Loss of native species
    • Suburban/exurban development on irrigated lands

Upper Snake River Basin

Henry’s Fork Watershed

Teton Valley


Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer (ESPA)

Boggs et al., In Press, J. American Water Resources Assoc.


ESPA Annual Water Budget: Mean 1958-2007

Based on Johnson et al. 1999, J. American Water Resources Assoc.


Surface Water System

  • Drainage area: 35,800 mi2 (93,130 km2)
  • Irrigated area: 2.4 M acres (9750 km2)
  • 9 major storage reservoirs; capacity 4 M a-f (5 x 109 m3)

Basin Annual Water Budget: Mean 1958-2007

Estimates based on USGS, USBR, and IDWR data


1865 – 1910: (Euro-American) “Settlement”

1865: Earliest water right claimed

1910: Bureau of Reclamation begins reconstructing Jackson Dam

Natural Resource Paradigm: Develop and use


1910 – WWII: “Reclamation Phase I”

WWII: Reclamation projects deferred until after War ends

Natural Resource Paradigm: “Conservation” sensu T. Roosevelt

[Brackets indicate consequence of previous management actions]

*Fiege, M. 1999. Irrigated Eden. University of Washington Press, Seattle.


WWII – 1976: “Reclamation Phase II”

1976: Last big USBR Project—Teton Dam fails on June 5

Natural Resource Paradigm: Increased use of science/technology


1976 – 1993: “Conservation”

Natural Resource Paradigm: Modern Conservation/Env. Protection with heavy federal influence

1993: Henry’s Fork Watershed Council formed


1993-2008: “Re-Settlement”

1993: economic boom starts

2008: Economic recession

Subdivisions platted in agricultural regions of Henry’s Fork Watershed


1993-2008: “Re-Settlement”

Natural Resource Paradigm: Collaboration and local control


Killing the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg: Development vs. Natural Environment

Preston, C.R. 2005. Saving the charmed goose: reconciling human demands with inherent limitations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Yellowstone Science 13(4):5-14.


A New Twist on Killing the Goose:

Development vs. Irrigated Eden

  • Will replacement of irrigated agriculture with suburbia destroy the resources that the “re-settlers” value (and need)?
  • Abundant ground-water (recall the single-home exemption!)
  • Lush, verdant, open landscape with lots of water
  • Wetlands, fish, wildlife and other ecosystem services

Some conclusions

  • Thematic history reveals parallels between water and fisheries mgmt.
  • Loss of native trout due as much to fisheries management as agriculture
  • Increases in irrigation efficiency have reduced GW-associated resources
  • Canal system remains as largest source of aquifer recharge
  • Ecosystem services provided by irrigation-dependent ground water and wetlands are poorly understood and not acknowledged or appreciated
  • Irrigation-dependent systems are not native, but they provide valued resources
  • Loss of irrigated land to development could reduce these resources

Some Recommendations

  • Inventory and understand ecological systems associated with irrigation
  • Expend native species restoration resources only where they are likely to succeed (ironically, below big federal dams where flow regime can be shaped)
  • Acknowledge value of and protect nonnative ecosystems everywhere else
  • Build developments around canal system; keep canals viable!
  • Continue to irrigate in developments: use same surface water for landscaping
  • Restrict ground water to culinary use
  • Keep water rights with canal companies, which issue shares to new owners

Major Funders

  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Trout Unlimited
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
  • Friends of the Teton River
  • Greater Yellowstone Coalition
  • Henry’s Fork Foundation
  • National Science Foundation

Selected References

Battle, L., R. Van Kirk, W. Schrader. In press. Effectiveness of flow management and rainbow trout harvest on long-term viability of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the South Fork Snake River. Wild Trout X Symp.

Boggs, K., R. Van Kirk, G. Johnson, J. Fairley, P. Porter. In press. Analytical solutions to the linearizedBoussinesq equation for assessing the effects of recharge on aquifer discharge. J. Amer. Water Resources Assoc.

Fausch, K., Y. Taniguchi, S. Nakano, G.D. Grossman, and C.R. Townsend. 2001. Flood disturbance regimes influence rainbow trout invasion success among five holarctic regions. Ecol. Appl. 11:1438-1455.

Fiege, M. 1999. Irrigated Eden. Univ. of Washington Press, Seattle.

Fredericks, J., B. Schrader, and R. Van Kirk. 2004. A collaborative, multi-faceted approach to Yellowstone cutthroat trout conservation in the South Fork of the Snake River, Idaho. Proceedings of the Wild Trout VIII Symp.:158-166.

Johnson, G., W. Sullivan, D. Cosgrove, and R. Schmidt. 1999. Recharge of the Snake River Plain Aquifer: Transitioning from incidental to managed. J. Amer. Water Resources Assoc. 35:123-131.

Koenig, M. 2006. Habitat and biotic factors influencing distribution and recruitment of juvenile cutthroat trout in the Teton River, Idaho. MS Thesis, Utah State Univ.

Loomis, J. 2006. Use of survey data to estimate economic value and regional economic effects of fishery improvements, N. Am. J. Fish. Manage. 26:301–307.

Mitro, M., A. Zale, B. Rich. 2003. The relation between age-0 rainbow trout (Oncorhynchusmykiss) abundance and winter discharge in a regulated river. Can. J. Fish. Aq. Sci. 60:135-139.

Peck, D., and J. Lovvorn. 2001. The importance of flood irrigation in water supply to wetlands in the Laramie Basin, Wyoming, USA. Wetlands 21:370-378.

Preston, C. Saving the charmed goose: reconciling human demands with inherent limitations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Yellowstone Sci. 13(4):5-14.

Van Kirk, R., L. Battle, W. Schrader. 2010. Modelling competition and hybridization between native cutthroat trout and nonnative rainbow and hybrid trout. J. Biol. Dynamics 4:158-175.

Van Kirk, R. W. and L. Benjamin. 2001. Status and conservation of salmonids in relation to hydrologic integrity in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Western N. Am. Nat. 61:359-374.

Van Kirk, R., and M. Gamblin. 2000. History of fisheries management in the upper Henry’s Fork watershed. Intermountain J. Sci. 6:263-284.

Van Kirk, R., and C. Griffin. 1997. Building a collaborative process for restoration: Henrys Fork of Idaho and Wyoming. Pp. 253-276 in J. E. Williams et al., editors. Watershed Restoration: Principles and Practices. Am. Fish. Soc.