Flow-Control Plates to Manage Denil Fishways in Irrigation Diversions for Upstream Passage of Arctic Grayling

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


Small-stream irrigation diversions are key elements of many on-farm irrigation systems but can act as barriers to aquatic species. Denil fishways have been installed at irrigation diversion structures throughout the Big Hole River watershed in Montana to provide upstream passage for a population of Arctic Grayling Thymallus arcticus. When stream flows are low and irrigation demand is high, irrigators look for ways to maintain adequate diversion, but doing so may reduce the effectiveness of the fishways. In response, agencies and irrigators have proposed flow-control plates placed at the upstream end of fishways. We conducted laboratory-based fishway efficiency experiments with Arctic Grayling placed in an open-channel flume fitted with a Denil fishway and three flow plates. Of the total 200 fish that we used, the fishway entrance attracted 154 fish and we counted these fish as participants. We operated the fishway under varying flow conditions using three flow-control plate treatments and a control to investigate 1) the extent to which each treatment reduced flow compared to the control, and 2) the extent to which each treatment impacted passage success of Arctic Grayling relative to the control. We measured passage success as the ratio of the number of fish that fully ascended the fishway treatment to the number of participant fish attracted to the fishway treatment. One of the three plates, the Denil slot treatment, showed no evidence of reducing either flow or passage success. Another plate, the standard treatment, showed no evidence of reducing flow but moderate evidence of reducing passage success (P = 0.03). The only treatment to significantly reduce water flow rate was the narrowed Denil slot treatment and there was no evidence this treatment reduced passage in comparison to the control. Over all trials, water flow rate through the Denil fishway had a strong positive influence on fish passage success.



fish passage, Arctic Grayling, Denil fishway, irrigation diversion, ecohydraulics


Plymesser, K., Blue, T., Kappenman, K., Blank, M., Cahoon, J., & Dockery, D. (2023). Flow Control Plates to Manage Denil Fishways in Irrigation Diversions for Upstream Passage of Arctic Grayling. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management.
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