Last year, Rob wrote a "Top-10" blog about HFF's top programmatic accomlishments for the year 2014. We'd like to keep that tradition going, so this year Rob, Brandon, and I came up with HFF's Top-10 List 2015:
2015 was a busy year here at the Henry’s Fork Foundation. Now that the year is coming to a close, we’re counting down our top-10 programmatic accomplishments of 2015.
Programmatic work includes research and restoration, stewardship, and education; but does not include other notable HFF events and fundraising accomplishments, like two record-setting days of giving from our members on Giving Tuesday and Idaho Gives.
10. CH2M and HFF review managed aquifer recharge program for the Idaho Water Resource Board. HFF, in cooperation with CH2M in Boise, completed a comprehensive review of the State of Idaho’s program of managed aquifer recharge for the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. The centerpiece of the review was a detailed analysis of the availability of water for managed recharge, under constraints of physical water supply, water-rights priorities, reservoir storage, and fish and wildlife needs. HFF staff Abi Cano, Christina Morrisett, and Rob Van Kirk conducted the water availability analysis. Rob and his CH2M colleague Kevin Boggs presented the results to the Water Resource Board in November. The water-availability analysis sets the template for meeting long-term aquifer stabilization goals while also maintaining streamflows for fish and wildlife.
9. Chester Dam turbine test. In June of this year, the Henry’s Fork Foundation was notified about plans to release water from Island Park Reservoir to provide extra flows for a turbine test at Chester Dam during June 21st-26th. This would have involved flows being doubled out of Island Park Reservoir during peak angling season. After two days of information-gathering, face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and a Drought Management Planning Committee meeting, HFF and partners came to a new agreement. The test would be restricted to two days (saving precious storage water) and would be moved back to July 21st- July 23rd. The flow test was completed successfully in late July, used 4408 acre-feet of storage water from Island Park Reservoir, and resulted in a maximum flow at IP of 2000 cfs. The originally proposed test in June would have used 9166 acre-feet and resulted in a maximum flow at IP of 2400 cfs. HFF is proud of the collaborative work that made this change possible, and grateful that our partners in the watershed were willing to work with us to mitigate the potential negative impact on the Henry’s Fork fishery.
8. Harriman Canal project launched. Numerous anglers and HFF members have called attention to the condition of the trails below the fishermen’s access at the north end of Harriman State Park. An initial review of the problem led to a comprehensive look at the irrigation infrastructure and management of the resources in the immediate area. The major issues include management of the Harriman Canal (or lack thereof) for winter fish use, fish mortality in the canal, decay of infrastructure, sediment deposition in the river, safety and erosion issues along the angler trail that parallels the upper portion of the canal, and general operation and management of the canal. Given that the canal is in visible disrepair, Harriman State Park and the Henry’s Fork Foundation envision a project that repairs Harriman Canal, installs a fish screen at the point of diversion, updates irrigation infrastructure, and minimizes damage to the riverbank trail and the river itself. HFF has begun the planning process for this project and is glad to announce that the project has received a Watershed Integrity and Review Endorsement (W.I.R.E.) from the Henry’s Fork Watershed Council. The next steps will be to contract with an engineering firm to establish a full scope of work for the project.
8. Grant awards support programmatic work. This year HFF received grants from the Cross Charitable Foundation, American Fly Fishing Trade Association, Trout and Salmon Foundation, Willard-Eccles Charitable Foundation, Voigt Foundation, Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Sustainable Northwest, Idaho Community Foundation, and Orvis. These funds support a variety of programmatic and capacity-building work, including our water-quality monitoring network, education programs, and habitat improvement and creek restoration efforts.
7. HFF interns assist Friends of the Teton River with watershed-wide YCT survey. This summer, our interns assisted Friends of the Teton River with an electrofishing survey to assess Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout populations throughout the watershed. From one of our interns, Natalie Smith: “This past week, we had training for a new job for the Friends of the Teton River organization in Driggs, Idaho. Each week three of us will travel to Driggs for four ten-hour days to do electrofishing to check cutthroat populations in the region. While this past week was mostly training for us we got to help out on many of the reaches of the streams they examined. Each day we hike into the woods with our gear—the electro fisher, nets, a couple buckets, block nets, a measuring board, and our waders—to spend the day searching for (hopefully finding) and electrofishing the various reaches. While the 5:30 am wake up is rough, the job could not be more rewarding.” Our incredible summer interns also helped HFF plan and prepare for our annual Henry’s Fork Days event in June, monitored and maintained the Buffalo fish ladder to get an accurate estimate of the number of fish moving in and out of the Buffalo River, and helped our research team gather and analyze endless water quality and quantity data. Christina, Abi, Maya, and Natalie were a true joy to work with and brought immense value to the HFF team.
6. Aquatic invertebrate sampling added to water-quality monitoring. This year we added aquatic invertebrate sampling to our water-quality monitoring efforts. This effort will be structured as a four-year study to monitor invertebrates at Flat Rock, Last Chance, Osborne Bridge, Ashton (upstream of Ashton Reservoir), and St. Anthony. The first step was to develop a master list of invertebrate taxa (“groups”) for the watershed. Sampling conducted in March resulted in a list that contains 202 taxa. Also from our March sampling, we learned that abundance of macroinvertebrates ranges from 31,353 individuals per square meter of stream bottom at Ashton to 86,538 individuals per square meter at Osborne Bridge. All five sites had roughly the same number of species in the samples, but diversity was greatest at Ashton and St. Anthony, due to more uniform abundance across the species. Water and habitat quality, based on Hilsenhoff’s Biotic Index, ranged from good to excellent at all sites except Osborne Bridge, where water and habitat quality was rated as “fair.” HFF will continue this monitoring annually to gain greater insight into aquatic invertebrate communities and the overall health of the river.
5. Youth on the Fly continues into its 3rd year. On August 20th, six professional fly-fishing guides donated their time to take eleven Ashton Elementary students out on the Henry’s Fork for a day of fly-fishing from Warm River to Ashton Dam. The students learned about casting, fly-fishing, and the Henry’s Fork fisheries. We asked the students at the end of the day, “How many fish did you catch?” We received answers like “10 fish,” “I caught 15,” or “Together, we caught 27 fish!” Youth on the Fly aims to connect professional fly-fishing guides with local elementary students to increase youth participation in fly-fishing as a positive form of recreation in the Henry’s Fork watershed. It’s our hope these students will grow up with an appreciation of the world-class trout fishery in their backyard, and will be good stewards of this unique ecosystem for years to come. This year, we created a video to highlight the students’ experience.
4. Adult trout habitat use study completed. This December, graduate student Zach Kuzniar successfully defended his master’s thesis “Adult Rainbow Trout Habitat Selection in the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, Idaho.” During the summers of 2013 and 2014, the Henry's Fork Foundation worked with Zach and Dr. Eric Snyder, a biology professor at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, to investigate habitat-use by adult rainbow trout in Harriman State Park. The project utilized radio tagging to follow fish throughout the summer season, measuring habitat variables such as aquatic vegetation cover, substrate type, depth, and velocity. They found that fish showed a primary preference for deeper water, and that percentage of macrophyte cover could affect fish habitat preference. The results of this study will provide a scientific basis for the types of habitat that should be maintained, enhanced, or created in the Harriman reach to increase the number of adult rainbow trout present during the fishing season.
3. Stone Bridge and Del Rio purchase. In 2015, HFF purchased a new access site at Del Rio Bridge and enlarged the Stone Bridge access site to ensure public access to the river in perpetuity. HFF looks forward to continuing these efforts in 2016 with improvements at the Stone Bridge site, including an improved boat ramp, installation of additional facilities and informational kiosk, and moving the road farther from the river to benefit public safety. HFF is committed to providing public to the Henry’s Fork and its tributaries and will continue to work with partners to ensure access to this incredible river for generations to come.
2. Water-quality network expands to 8 sites. HFF now has sondes deployed in 8 locations throughout the Henry’s Fork. These sondes, which measure a variety of water-quality parameters, including temperature and dissolved oxygen, will allow us to monitor long-term changes to key water-quality attributes and evaluate effects of new facilities and management actions. This year, our water quality monitoring network provided data that led to a number of new conclusions. We learned that when there is an outflow of more than 200 cfs from the bottom-withdrawl dam gate side or west side of the reservoir, it results in improved summertime water conditions for trout, including lower temperatures and higher dissolved oxygen content. We also learned that increases in turbidity caused by an increased flow early in the irrigation season, and late in the season when reservoir inflow was less that outflow, was minimal and not of great concern for the overall health of our fisheries. Our 8th sonde was acquired in cooperation with Fall River Rural Electric, and was placed on the west side of the river below Island Park Dam to monitor the quality of water coming out of the reservoir. This sonde will also help us further investigate seasonal high-turbidity events below the dam and inform future management decisions.
1. Adapting to record low water supply. Contrary to what we might expect of top 10 lists, our number one spot goes to the issue of greatest concern in 2015. 2015 was the driest water year since 1941, and this year the watershed experienced a drought as bad as any since the Dust-Bowl years of the 1930s. However, given all of this, flows are higher this winter than expected and temperatures have actually been fairly mild compared to other winters when flows were low. This is where the story takes a turn for the better, and why this issue is number one. Winter flow is going to be much lower than average this year, but nowhere near what would be expected based on the extreme drought we are experiencing. Although it is impossible to quantify how much water was used or saved by every single management decision and weather event that happened in 2015, extremely precise management and informed decision-making around the Chester turbine flow test increased winter flows by a whopping 34% over what they would have been otherwise, increasing projected trout recruitment in 2017 by 18%. On top of all of this, reservoir carryover at the end for the 2015 irrigation season was nowhere near its minimum. In fact the 2015 carryover of around 43,000 acre-feet (32% of capacity) was higher than carryover in 25 other water years. Looked at in proportion to water supply, about 13% of the total annual supply of water that flowed into the reservoir was still there on October 1. This is much higher than average relative carryover, and higher than that in 35 other water years (including other recent dry years such as 1989, 1994 and 2001-2003 when carryover was 5-10% of total supply). For us at HFF this is encouraging news. It shows us, that through collaboration with our partners, continued research, and careful management, we can adapt to challenges like low water years and continue to conserve the river and fisheries we love so much for many years to come.