Rob’s Top-10 HFF Programmatic Accomplishments of 2014

My top-10 list is limited to items from our programmatic work (research and restoration, stewardship, and education) and so does not include other notable HFF events and accomplishments such as four record-breaking fundraising receptions, the 30th Anniversary edition of Henry’s Fork Day, and a special appearance by “The Voice of the River” at the North Fremont Education Foundation talent show and auction. These are all important events and accomplishments that make our programmatic work possible. 

10. Henry’s Lake Outlet channel restoration flow-test. On August 4, in pouring rain, staff from The Nature Conservancy, HFF, North Fork Reservoir Company, Fremont-Madison Irrigation District, Idaho Water Engineering, and Water District 01 conducted a test of the recently completed Henrys Lake Outlet channel restoration project. The flow test demonstrated that a full delivery of 300 cfs from Henry’s Lake could be successfully conveyed through the project reach, in accordance with a compromise agreement. Under this agreement, around 170 cfs is conveyed through the restored “natural channel,” enough to fill the channel to bankfull level but not spill out onto the floodplain. The remainder is conveyed through the delivery channel constructed in the 1920s by the North Fork Reservoir Company. The successful test concludes a decade of planning, construction, conflict, resolution, and modification.

9. Henry’s Fork Watershed Conference. On December 9, water experts from around the state gathered in Rexburg to discuss water management and administration after completion of the Snake River Basin Adjudication. The conference was attended by 60 people representing a wide variety of interests and viewpoints. The primary conclusions of the conference were that managing the state’s aquifers is key to stabilizing water availability and that collaboration and planning are essential to long-term sustainability of Idaho’s water. Notes and presentations from the conference are online at http://henrysfork.org/watershed-council

8. Chester Dam hydroelectric project completion. The inflatable rubber dam was installed on top of the existing concrete dam early in the year, rendering the fish ladder over the dam and fish screens on the canals fully operational. Monitoring conducted by HFF and Idaho Department of Fish and Game confirmed that fish can now safely pass upstream and downstream at the dam. Even the October 23 flow disruption that resulted from inflation of the rubber dam after it was lowered for maintenance work had a silver lining. That incident prompted HFF to convene a meeting on December 16 of all parties involved in operation and monitoring of the project. At that meeting, everyone agreed to modifications of the operation plan that will limit flow changes as a result of rubber dam inflation to 10% of the river’s flow, as measured at St. Anthony.

7. General Mills/TNC water sustainability initiative tour and meeting. On July 15, staff from HFF, Fremont-Madison Irrigation District, and Rocky Mountain Environmental Associates had the distinct pleasure of guiding representatives from General Mills’ sustainability office and The Nature Conservancy’s global freshwater science team on a tour of the Henry’s Fork. The tour included a morning of fishing on Box Canyon, where even first-time anglers caught fish. The next day, HFF joined numerous other stakeholders from around the Snake River basin to learn about General Mills’ water sustainability initiative, being developed and implemented in partnership with TNC. Because of its importance as a major grain-producing region, the upper Snake River basin has been identified by General Mills as a high priority region for investment in long-term sustainability of water resources.  

6. Trout in the Classroom field trip. On May 15, Anne Marie Emery led a field trip for the Ashton Elementary 5th-graders, who had just completed the four-month Trout in the Classroom program. Parents, teachers, and even the school principal came on the field trip, which featured release of the trout the students had raised in the classroom, a tour of the Buffalo River fish ladder, and fly-casting lessons. Thacia Schmidt, Matt Cahoon and I, from HFF, and Patagonia Fly Fishing Ambassador Millie Paini assisted with the field trip. My participation barely amounted to “assisting;” mostly I watched and learned from Anne Marie, who is extremely effective at connecting with the kids and their parents. This was my first firsthand experience with Trout in the Classroom, and I can now say without hesitation that it is an extremely valuable and important part of HFF’s work.

5. Statewide water management and planning. I had the privilege of being invited to participate in numerous statewide water management and planning activities during 2014. Highlights included providing technical input to the final Henry’s Fork Basin Study, which was completed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in early 2014, and assisting Idaho Department of Fish and Game in review of several groundwater recharge water-rights applications. HFF’s involvement in these and other projects during 2014 led not only to increased attention to fish and wildlife concerns in water management but also to more activities on the schedule for 2015. As I’ve detailed in previous blogs, this work gives wild trout in the Henry’s Fork and throughout the Snake River basin a seat at the water-management table.

4. Buffalo River PIT-tag detections. Starting in the fall of 2013, HFF has been using Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags to mark both juvenile and spawning-sized rainbow trout as they ascend the Buffalo River fish ladder to access spawning, rearing, and winter habitat upstream. On January 15, staff from HFF, Biomark (tagging equipment manufacturer based in Boise), and Sessions Electrical installed a permanent PIT-tag detection station on the Buffalo River Dam. On January 22, the antenna detected its first fish, a rainbow trout that had been tagged on October 30, 2013. On February 27, two juvenile rainbow trout tagged at the fish ladder were observed several miles upstream, in Toms Creek, during an electrofishing survey. Their tag numbers were recorded by a handheld tag reader. Over the course of the year, a total of 155 tagged fish were subsequently detected, either by handheld readers or the fixed station. These and other data helped us estimate that around 72,000 juvenile rainbow trout migrated out of the Buffalo River and into the Henry’s Fork during the spring of 2014. Over 99.7% of these were fished that had been spawned in the Buffalo River; the rest were fish that had ascended the Buffalo River during the fall of 2013. We also estimated that around 10% of the juvenile fish that migrated into the Buffalo River during the fall of 2013 returned successfully to the Henry’s Fork during the spring of 2014, a much higher survival rate than we had observed on Thurmon Creek in previous winters.

3. Good water supply. After two years of drought, average snowpack and ample summer rains resulted in above-average reservoir storage carryover and higher-than-anticipated streamflows going into the 2014-2015 winter. As of the last day of calendar year 2014, snowpack in the Henry’s Fork was near average, and snowpack across the entire upper Snake River basin was well above average. Inflows to Island Park Reservoir, while still below average, are higher than I predicted based on last summer’s runoff. Apparently, the summer and fall rains—and even some rain and wet snow a few weeks ago—are now contributing to increased baseflows in the upper Henry’s Fork and Fall River watersheds.

2. Increase in angler satisfaction with Ranch fishery. During the summer of 2014, HFF conducted a survey of angler satisfaction with the fishery in Harriman State Park (aka “the Ranch”). Methods used were identical to those used in 2008, for the purposes of comparison. In 2008, anglers rated the overall quality of fishing on the Ranch below average, when compared to all previous years they had fished the Ranch. On a 10-point scale (1=worst, 5 = average, 10 = best), anglers rated the overall quality of fishing in 2008 at 4.5 when compared to all previous years and only 3.2 when compared with the 1980s. In 2014, anglers rated the overall quality of fishing at 5.9 when compared to all previous years and 5.5 when compared to the 1980s. Margin of error is very small on these averages, given the sample size of over 600 anglers in 2008 and over 440 anglers in 2014. These results provide strong quantitative evidence that anglers are much more satisfied with the quality of fishing on the Ranch now than they were in 2008.

1. Water-quality monitoring network established. HFF successfully installed continuous-recording water-quality instruments at Flatrock, Island Park Dam, Pinehaven, and Marysville (just upstream of Ashton Reservoir) during 2014. These instruments record water temperature, dissolved oxygen, total suspended solids, turbidity, water depth, chlorophyll, and algae production, producing a wealth of information that has previously not been available. During the summer of 2014, we learned that daily cycles of macrophyte respiration between Last Chance and Pinehaven cause fluctuations in water depth that persist all the way downstream to Rexburg. This information is already helping us develop water-management strategies for the river downstream of Ashton. In 2015, we will add three more stations to the network and collaborate with several agencies on refining monitoring of water quality at Island Park Dam. In addition, I will be presenting results on sediment and phosphorus transport at Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s annual water-quality conference in Boise in February.