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Mill Creek: A Stream on the Mend

Lower Mill Creek after the removal of a concrete grade control structure

Mill Creek, which flows over 20 miles from its headwaters near Cedar Butte to the Little Wind River, is a poster child for the many problems affecting small streams in the Wind River watershed.

When the Wind River Irrigation Project was constructed in the 1930ís, Mill Creek (and many other small streams) were incorporated into the irrigation system to transport water diverted from other area streams. As part of this effort, many concrete grade control structures and low head diversion dams were constructed in Mill Creek. While these structures were useful for irrigation, they often created barriers to natural fish migration, isolating fish populations from historic habitat.

Excessive grazing in riparian areas has also taken its toll on Mill Creek and many other small streams in the watershed. Poorly managed grazing in riparian areas often leads to unstable stream banks and increased sediment loading (see photo below).

In 2002, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) office in Lander began to work to undo some of the damage along Mill Creek. In cooperation with private landowner Guy Givens and the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), the USFWS installed rock weirs in place of outdated and degraded concrete grade control structures on the Givensí property. The drops were removed and replaced with natural rock cross vanes which allow fish to move up and down the stream.

During the following year, the disturbed riparian areas on Givensí property were replanted with native vegetation including grasses and willows. At the same time, additional rocks were added to the structures and additional bank sloping was completed. Riparian areas were also fenced in order to allow riparian vegetation to become reestablished and stabilize the stream banks, and Givens has agreed to protect the Mill Creek riparian corridor through strict grazing management.

The USFWS and NRCS have also completed similar projects on other reaches of Mill Creek, on properties owned by Tom Norwood and Charles Chavez. George Johnstone has also contributed the effort with stream restoration and riparian vegetation planting on his property on upper Mill Creek. As funding becomes available, stream restoration is scheduled to continue with the removal and modification of even more structures on Mill Creek.

With the help of projects like these, we hope that one day Mill Creek will again be the beautiful lowland trout stream it once was. Perhaps a fullyrestored Mill Creek can one day serve as a model of how cooperative stream restoration efforts can breathe new life into a neglected and mistreated stream.

A panoramic view of an overgrazed reach of Mill Creek. Note the lack of stabilizing vegetation and the resulting bank erosion.