The dusty greens, grays and golden browns of southern Idaho unfurl from the edges of the Snake River and spread across the arid landscape. The river slithers into canals that water thirsty fields of potatoes, onions and sugar beets. It tumbles over falls and is shadowed by some of the steepest canyon walls on its journey west to the Columbia.
In times past, salmon spawned by the millions in this river while bony-plated sturgeon swam its depths. The last 100 years have taxed the resilience of this river born of the crashing waters of the Bonneville Lake Flood. Dams for irrigation and electricity have supported human activity but have slowed and silted the waterway. Chemical fertilizer and other pollutants have tainted the water and fed the overgrowth of aquatic weeds.
For people floating down the Snake and boating in its reservoirs, they may not yet know about the changes ramping up to improve water quality under the Snake River Stewardship Program (SRSP), one of the largest watershed restoration programs in the United States.
TFT began working with Idaho Power Company in 2016 on the SRSP.
“The SRSP is unique among TFT projects because of its 50-year program life,” said David Primozich, conservation director. “Our next longest programs are Oregon water quality trading projects at 20 years. We think these robust timelines are essential for delivering measurable improvements to the environment.”
Work in 2019 included field teams maintaining and monitoring five previously implemented project sites and transitioning one site from passive restoration to an active planting site. Back in the office, teams continued to develop and test the database and data collection tools that allow SRSP staff to track and manage the program. Additionally, Idaho Power moved forward with permitting the Rippee Island floodplain enhancement project, which will be built in 2021.
Also last year, the states of Idaho and Oregon certified the company’s water-quality plan for the Snake River — a key milestone in the renewal of the federal license for the operation of three dams in Hells Canyon, which provide about 70% of IPC’s hydropower electricity.
While the SRSP is still in a research phase, we’re assisting Idaho Power with building the systems and running multiple pilot projects to test permitting, implementation, and maintenance techniques. Attention to the details of site selection, planning, training local contractors, and documenting performance now will ensure the program will launch smoothly once it receives its final approval.
Restoration actions from the research phase thus far include 8 acres of floodplain enhancement, 37,000 native trees and shrubs planted, and 1,450 tons per year of sediment prevented from washing off fields into the river.
“The Snake River is crucial to providing clean energy to our customers,” said Brett Dumas, environmental affairs director at Idaho Power. “We’re committed to the actions that will improve its water quality.”