The Wyoming Game and Fish Department recently took steps to avoid potential resource damage to Newton Lakes due to high water.
Since June Game and Fish has monitored rising water levels at the popular fishery and recreation area north of Cody.
“For the last seven months, East and West Newton Lakes have experienced unusually high water levels due to multiple years of higher than average precipitation and record runoff,” said Sam Hochhalter, Cody area fisheries supervisor. “While increasing water levels are good news for overall productivity of the trout populations, rising water levels have impacted access and infrastructure by submerging trails, roads, boat ramps and picnic tables.”
Habitat and Access supervisor Brad Sorensen and crew maintain Wyoming Game and Fish Department access areas in the Bighorn Basin. Sorensen said the footpath and lower road access to East Newton have been submerged and water is approaching the vault outhouses at both East and West Newton Lakes. Because water levels have not receded and could potentially reach the outhouses, Game and Fish plan to have the outhouses pumped and will then close them until further notice.
“The damage or loss of access to infrastructure is an unfortunate consequence of this natural event,” Sorensen said. “While high water levels have impacted infrastructure and access, overall the increased water levels should have a positive impact on the fishery.”
Game and Fish also constructed a second gravel barrier with 40 cubic yards of gravel in the channel connecting East and West Newton Lakes.
“This is phase two of an effort to prevent goldfish that are present in West Newton from entering East Newton Lake,” Hochhalter said. “The new berm will provide added insurance that goldfish won’t migrate into East Newton, even if water elevation in West Newton rises an additional 6 or so feet this next spring and summer. Ultimately, we want to remove goldfish from West Newton Lake but to successfully do so will require water levels to come down substantially.”
Last summer water levels rose high enough that water from West Newton Lake began to naturally flow into East Newton Lake through a channel connecting the two bodies of water — an event that has not happened in 35 years.
As water levels began to rise, Game and Fish kept a close eye on the channel connecting the two bodies of water and the existing gravel barrier in the channel that allows water to pass, but not fish. Last year in late June, with the help of Dave Sweet and Trout Unlimited, Game and Fish built up the barrier to accommodate the rising water levels and prevent the passage of fish from one lake to the other.
Declining water productively in East Newton Lake has long been an issue.
“Water naturally flowing from West Newton into East Newton is providing more productive water which will benefit trout,” Hochhalter said. “Additionally, the increases in water elevation in both lakes is a natural way to bolster productivity because the newly inundated shorelines will release nutrients into the water. With the increased productivity in both lakes we expect trout growth rates to be markedly improved over the upcoming years and fishing to be as good or better than years past.”