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Boise River Enhancement Network Presents Draft Plan to Public 

click to enlarge screen_shot_2015-06-18_at_10.35.35_am.png

Most people look at the Boise River and see it as a natural gem running through our city, but according to the Boise River Enhancement Network it could be a lot healthier. 

"I think that when most people look at the river, they think, 'Well that looks beautiful,'" said Tamsen Binggeli, the chair of BREN and an ecologist at the Ecosystem Sciences Foundation. "They wouldn't realize that that's not how the river should function. Our river is a simplified, straightened bathtub."

She helped author BREN's 40-page draft Boise River Enhancement Plan, which was presented at a June 17 open house at Idaho Rivers United. The concept of the plan was born out of a 2011 workshop including a number of Boise River stakeholders. With a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, BREN was created and within two years, the plan came to fruition—focusing on the stretch from Lucky Peak Reservoir to the confluence of the Snake River.

click to enlarge The image on the top shows the Boise River as it currently flows. The image below shows the Boise River as it would be in a more natural state. - BOISE RIVER ENHANCEMENT NETWORK
  • Boise River Enhancement Network
  • The image on the top shows the Boise River as it currently flows. The image below shows the Boise River as it would be in a more natural state.
The plan is not a step-by-step list of ways to make the Boise River healthier. Rather, it is broken into four categories that need improvement: geomorphology (how the river changes the land around it), fisheries and aquatic habitat, wetlands and riparian habitat, and water quality. 

"The Boise River used to have a huge floodplain," Binggeli said. "It used to be braided and move a lot. Now, the flow drops so low that it can't feed our riparian areas and all the trees along the sides are left exposed."

Before the dams were put in, the river would have a peak flow of 13,400 cubic feet per second. Today, that flow caps around 4,000 cfs. Binggeli said with lower flows, sediment doesn't get washed away, fish don't have complex and healthy living space, and temperatures rise to dangerous levels for aquatic habitat. 

"In downtown Boise, there's not much we can do other than protect the areas we can," she said. "We've put up levies and built right up to the banks. ... We just have to choose our battles, I guess."

The plan suggests both passive and aggressive actions that can be taken to address the broader issues. Passive options include increasing river flows and letting the body of water do what it does naturally. More forceful actions involve adding woody debris to the river to change its course and excavating old channels for reconnection. 

click to enlarge This image shows the amount of water flowing through the Boise River as it is diverted throughout the Treasure Valley. - BOISE RIVER ENHANCEMENT NETWORK
  • Boise River Enhancement Network
  • This image shows the amount of water flowing through the Boise River as it is diverted throughout the Treasure Valley.

Other problems include too much sediment from stormwater runoff and agriculture, which covers the natural gravel along the bottom that fish live in. The plan suggests addressing sediment and problems with riparian habitat, such as removing invasive plants like false indigo. 

The open house drew more than two dozen people, who looked carefully over the presentation. Liz Paul, the Boise River coordinator for Idaho Rivers United, urged everyone to submit feedback by Aug. 10. 

"This is only going to be successful if we can take it to the decision makers and the funders and tell them this is a product of our community," Paul said. "It wasn't just some people in an office somewhere inventing all this stuff."

The plan was put together with input from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the city of Boise, as well as feedback from other communities like Caldwell and Star. The grant team included the Ecosystem Sciences Foundation, the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley, Idaho Rivers United, the South Boise Water Company, Trout Unlimited, Mountain Visions and the Idaho Water Resources Research Institute. 

click to enlarge Projects like the Boise River Park are key to addressing multiple issues facing the Boise River. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Projects like the Boise River Park are key to addressing multiple issues facing the Boise River.
"People will say, 'Well, we can't just go back to the old days, this is the way it is now. It can't be a natural river anymore,'" said Paul. "You could say, 'Look at this plan, we're not talking about going back. We're talking about working within the environment that we have here in 2015 and look at all these things that are possible despite the constraints of being in the middle of a big city, and using the water for agriculture."

Binggeli agreed. She pointed to the Boise River Park as a place where upgrading the old irrigation diversion created better fish habitat, more recreation opportunity and a larger water supply for irrigators.

"There are ways to do this without pointing fingers at people," Binggeli told Boise Weekly. "We can all help each other to make it better. This is a toolbox of ideas that people can take to address some of these issues."

The full draft plan can be read here. Comments can be emailed to boiseriverenhancement@gmail.com.
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