Ada County Creates Environmental Advisory Board Over Barber Dam Incident 

On the night of Feb. 3, a power fluctuation knocked Barber Dam off the grid and stopped the flow of water into the Boise River. By the time the mistake was realized eight hours later, the river dried up significantly. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • On the night of Feb. 3, a power fluctuation knocked Barber Dam off the grid and stopped the flow of water into the Boise River. By the time the mistake was realized eight hours later, the river dried up significantly.

The public meeting on May 27 drew 75 people to the Ada County Commission, where they listened to a presentation by Enel Green Power explaining why the Barber Dam shut off for eight hours in early February, leaving the Boise River as a trickle.

After Enel's regional hydro operations manager described what went wrong, what's been done to fix the dam, and why it won't happen again, several people stood up to testify anyway, upset by the dewatering of the river.

Most of the people who spoke demanded some sort of compensation for the damage to the watershed. Several environmental nonprofits lined up with suggestions of river restoration projects they would like to see Enel fund.

Now, the Ada County Commission has put together an Environmental Advisory Board to figure out what sort of project should take place. The board had its first meeting on June 24, with several Boise River stakeholders and environmental groups at the table.

At the meeting, Ada County Commissioner Dave Case told the group that "the county intends to work in partnership with the groups represented here to resolve what issues we can together."

"With input from this advisory board, it's our intent to help fund a project to benefit the river, and we will match whatever Enel puts in," he said.

The board includes representatives from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho Rivers United, the Idaho Conservation League, the Boise River Enhancement Network, the Freshwater Trust, Trout Unlimited, the Barber Valley Neighborhood Association, Enel Green Power and staff from several Ada County departments. 

The board will generate and vet Boise River enhancement project ideas, according for a news release from Ada County. The Idaho Conservation League initially presented Enel Green Power with a list of ideas after the incident took place. Their ideas included restoring riparian areas around Barber Pool and the Boise River, funding for the U.S. Geological Survey to complete water quality studies and biological sampling, and off-channel fish habitat enhancement projects. The price tag for the projects ranges from $35,000 to $350,000.

ICL's water associate, Marie Kellner told Boise Weekly back in early June that she felt she needs to push Enel to follow through with what she believes is an obligation to the Boise River.

"I recognize there is still a role to play," Kellner said. "To hold their feet to the fire."

click to enlarge The public meeting on May 27 drew 75 people, many who testified that the Barber Dam operating company should make a significant financial contribution towards a river restoration project. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • The public meeting on May 27 drew 75 people, many who testified that the Barber Dam operating company should make a significant financial contribution towards a river restoration project.
During that same time, Enel's regional hydro operations manager, Larry James, told BW that he was disappointed people at the public meeting weren't more pleased with the corrections they made to the dam to prevent an incident like this from ever happening again.

"I was hopeful that people would have paid more attention to what we've done so far," he said, referring to the quadrupling of alarms and notification systems that would alert operators if the water flow stopped.

 But in a news release from Ada County, James' tune has changed substantially. 

“As a company, we truly believe that all community activities provide an excellent opportunity to engage and strengthen relationships among local stakeholders,” James said. “We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively and being an active participant on the Environmental Advisory Board and working towards a common goal of ensuring the continued health, stability and spirit of the Boise River as a whole.”

The board will continue to meet once a month, indefinitely.
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