Occasionally, I am asked what I do at the Henry’s Fork Foundation or what does the Foundation accomplish? The following synopsis of a day (OK, maybe two days plus) on the Henry’s Fork should give our members and the local community a little more insight to the daily work of HFF. Keep in mind that this situation is not happening in a vacuum and HFF continues to work on water-quality monitoring network installation and maintenance, a macroinvertebrate study, monitoring of basin-wide water flows and management, angler attitude survey results, adult rainbow trout habitat use study, project reporting, recreational access issues, riparian fence maintenance, stream restoration projects, watershed-wide resource issues with partner organizations, education programs, volunteer opportunities, membership acquisition, and fundraising, to name a few. Attend our membership meeting next year at Henry’s Fork Days and you can hear more about all of these items or stop by to visit us in our Ashton office to find out more.
We must start this story out with a large thanks to our friends at Fall River Rural Electric Cooperative (FRREC) and all of our long time partners involved in the Drought Management Planning Committee including; Fremont-Madison Irrigation District, Idaho Department of Water Resources and Water District 01, US Bureau of Reclamation, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, and Idaho Fish and Game. Thanks again for your willingness to listen and collaborate to the benefit all of the users of the world-class resources of the Henry’s Fork.
The Chester Hydropower Project has provided many challenges to FRREC and to the watershed. Faulty turbines have been the instigators of most issues, but the inflatable dam on top of the spillway and the fish screens have also provided challenges. Even the HFF camera used to monitor fish moving through the fish ladder has been hacked and used for nefarious purposes. The project has yet to be fully functional after 5 years of construction and repairs. Frustrating does not even begin to describe it. “Cursed” has been a term thrown around lately for Chester. I do not blame FRREC for wanting to resolve their issues as soon as possible and have a fully functioning facility.
It was no surprise to hear from FRREC staff that they needed to test the turbines at Chester. However, it was a surprise to hear late in the day on June 15th that the engineering firm that they had hired would be showing up on June 23rd and that flows would be doubled or more out of Island Park Reservoir starting on June 21st, lasting through the 24th. I was taken aback. A flow of 2,200+ through the Ranch during the peak of angling season and the marquee hatches—the green drake and brown drake--would be devastating on so many levels. The amount of water necessary to run the test during a drought year was also astonishing. HFF had been working hard under the current drought conditions to not only minimize the amount of storage water we would need to refill in Island Park Reservoir next winter but also ensure that all of the people from near and far counting on stable June water conditions would find what they were looking for. We could not accept all of that hard work evaporating.
Two days of information-gathering, face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and a Drought Management Planning Committee meeting later, a new agreement had been reached. The test would be constricted to two days (saving precious storage water) and would be moved back to July 21st- July 23rd. Dr. Rob Van Kirk, the HFF Executive Committee, and myself worked all of the different angles of this situation to arrive at a resolution much more acceptable to our constituents. I am proud of the work and process that played out last week. The ground work for this better outcome started 20 years ago when Jan Brown, Dale Swensen, and leadership at many levels and organizations committed to the Henry’s Fork Watershed collaborative process. They were committed to working together and stuck with it even through conflict. Once again HFF is grateful to our many partners for their support and willingness to go back to the drawing board so that this turbine test would have as little negative effect as possible on the Henry’s Fork fishery.
I also think it worth mentioning that the drought conditions played a significant role in this test needing this level of attention. The drought has caused Fall River and other tributaries of the Henry’s Fork such as Robinson Creek to run extremely low – record lows in many cases. Under normal flow conditions for June, FRREC could have run their test without needing water from Island Park Reservoir, or at the least, requiring very little additional Island Park water. This drought is going to test us all, outfitters and guides, irrigators, cities, and management agencies. Thankfully we have the relationships and processes in place to navigate these difficult issues.