High Flows in Cottonwood Creek

by Kathy Peter and Liz Paul

On April 8, 2006, Cottonwood Creek reached its highest flow in the 16 years the current US Geological Survey (USGS) stream gage has been in operation. At 78 cubic feet per second (cfs), the flow was more than twice as high as the second highest peak flow recorded on January 17, 2011. In 2006, the water rose quickly from a daily mean of 18 cfs on April 3 to a daily mean of 74 cfs on April 8. The water receded more gradually, dropping below 10 cfs on April 19. 78 cfs is more than three times the highest flow yet in 2019.

Highest flow in 2019 (so far)

On March 28, 2019, the gage reported 18.7 cfs, the highest flow yet in 2019. The Cottonwood Creek gage is located high in the watershed, near Fivemile Creek. The USGS cooperatively operates it with City of Boise. Real-time data from the gage is transmitted via satellite to alert emergency managers of dangerously high flows.  The current flow doesn’t pose a flood risk, but it’s very fast and people should stay out of the channel.

The March 28 flow was the 5th highest flow in 16 years. In addition to the 2006 peak flow, high flows are as follows: January 17, 2011, 30 cfs, February 12, 2014, 25 cfs, and April 1, 2017, 20.7 cfs. The flow has exceeded 10 cfs in only 7 out of the 16 years. This year the flow has remained more than 10 cfs for two weeks. You can check the current flow here.

Cottonwood Creek above the confluence with Freestone Creek – March 28, 2019
Cottonwood Creek below the confluence with Freestone Creek – March 28, 2019

High and Steep, Wet and Dry

The Cottonwood Creek watershed is steep and much higher than Boise.  At its uppermost divide, the elevation is 6,000 feet and the average basin elevation is over 4,000 feet.  More than half the basin has slopes greater than 30 percent.  Because the high elevation receives greater snowfall than in town and also captures more  rain, the average annual precipitation in the basin is about 20 inches.  It also has a large area of surficial volcanic rocks.

As a result of its topography, geology, and climate, it accumulates snow in the winter that can melt off quickly in the spring, raising creek flow rapidly.  Some of the water soaks into the aquifer beneath the creek and this stored water returns to the creek after the initial peaks subside.
Water seeps out of the aquifer to the creek in the late spring and early summer, until the aquifer water table drops below the stream bottom. Cottonwood Creek is typically dry in the late summer, with the exception of heavy thunderstorms that can cause flash flooding.

Cottonwood Creek in the flume along Mountain Cove Road March 28, 2019
Cottonwood Creek flows under Mountain Cove Road into detention ponds. March 28, 2019.

Erosion Muddies the Creek

On March 28, Cottonwood Creek was brown with sediment. The fine sediment moved with the creek through the retention ponds all the way to the Boise River. A later trip to upstream sections of Cottonwood Creek revealed that the quick snow melt and heavy rain of March 27 and 28 caused significant erosion of Shaw Mountain Road. That could be the cause of the high sediment load.

Muddy Cottonwood Creek flows into clean Freestone Creek on March 28, 2019
Sediment-laden Cottonwood Creek flows into the Boise River March 28, 2019.

Videos Bring the Creek to Life

View 10 short videos of Cottonwood Creek taken on March 28, 2019 on the BREN YouTube channel. The still photos don’t do it justice.

Read about historic floods in Cottonwood Creek.

The Boise River Enhancement Network is a partner in a cooperative project to daylight Cottonwood Creek where it flows through Julia Davis Park and enters the Boise River. The creek currently runs through a stone flume under the park. A new natural creek channel will be constructed benefiting fish and wildlife, water quality and park visitors. The project leads are City of Boise and Trout Unlimited and partners include the Intermountain Bird Observatory, Ada County Highway District, Golden Eagle Audubon Society, and Land Trust of the Treasure Valley. The project is funded, in part, by the US Bureau of Reclamation, the City of Boise Open Space and Clean Water Fund and the Idaho Foundation for Fish and Wildlife.

All photos by Liz Paul.

Barber Dam: The Hydropower Project in our Backyard

By Mary Lucachick

The Barber Dam Hydroelectric Project is the closest hydroelectric power plant to Idaho’s capitol.  It’s located about 1/3 mile above Eckert Road east of downtown Boise. Fulcrum, LLC, a subsidiary of Enel Green Power North America, Inc., and Ada County are co-licensees. The 40-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license for the project, #4881, expires on November 30, 2023. Fulcrum, LLC and Ada County have filed a Notice of Intent and Pre-Application Document (PAD) to relicense the 3.7-megawatt project.

Barber Pool
Barber Pool

The initial licensing of this project in 1983 happened at a time when few people paid attention to the small project on the Boise River or the mill pond behind Barber Dam. Times have changed.  Relicensing is an opportunity for anyone with interest in the natural or cultural resources affected by the project. Everyone is welcome to come to the relicensing table and get involved in how the project will be operated in the future. 

Project Applicant webpage

BREN Barber Dam webpage

Rich History

BREN has hosted two public programs on project relicensing. Watch the videos. On February 1, John Falk from the Idaho Department of Water Resources Dam Safety Program shared historic information and amazing historic photos of the Barber Dam itself.  Massive logs were floated on a much higher Barber Pool and processed in sawmills on site.  Those sawmills were initially powered by water, and then after generation was installed, they were powered by electricity.  There is a long and rich history of industry at the dam and around the pool which is challenging to keep in perspective when you’re birding on the pool.  The story of how Barber Dam became a licensed hydropower project is interesting. This history and much more is laid out in the PAD.

This portion of the Boise River is one of the lesser known portions because access is limited. Much of the property surrounding the pool is owned by the Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands and operated as a conservation area for birds and wildlife. 

All About Barber Pool

BREN is hosting a program about Barber Pool on April 5, at 11:30 at the Boise Library Hays Auditorium. Speakers will talk about the aquatic and terrestrial resources and management.

conservation area sign

Getting Around

The Greenbelt on the north side runs next to Warm Springs Blvd, and on the south side it’s up on the rim going through the subdivision.  It’s a hike to get to the river near the Hwy 21 bridge and the dam itself is an impediment. To safely bypass it you must exit the river and walk around the dam on the north side on a small path provided by the project – the only portage provided around any dam on the Boise River.   

March 21 Site Visit and Meeting

The FERC process for relicensing this project is kicking off with a meeting and site visit facilitated by Fulcrum LLC and Ada County on March 21. Members of the community can attend to learn about the project, ask questions and voice concerns.  The public can suggest studies the applicants should conduct to help determine appropriate mitigation.  Please consider becoming part of this process which will impact the Boise River for decades to come. 

Cottonwood Creek: “It Will Cost a Pretty Penny”

It must have been a dry July when the City of Boise founders platted the first streets in 1863. They established the city in the channel of Cottonwood Creek. Although Cottonwood Creek is a large tributary to the lower Boise River, it can dry up for months between rain storms and snow melt. The natural course of Cottonwood Creek was down what became 5th Street, across Main, Grove, and Front streets and then across Tom Davis’ orchard, (now Julia Davis Park), to the Boise River. It wasn’t long before city residents learned what it meant to live in the path of Cottonwood Creek. See part 1 of this series.

In 1881, after years of repeated flooding, the Boise City Council paid for construction of a flume to route Cottonwood Creek through Fort Boise to the Boise River. The route of the flume is shown below on the excerpt of an 1885 map.  A section at Fort Boise was built in stone and remains standing today. According to the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman, the “flume seems to answer all purposes.” But this wasn’t to be the case. 

A map of the Cottonwood Ck flume today

A River of Sand

Cottonwood Creek carried more than water from the foothills to the valley – tremendous quantities of sand and gravel also were swept downstream with summer thunderstorms and spring freshets. The sand rapidly filled the flume causing the water to overflow and take out the flume walls. Crews of men were tasked with regularly digging out the sand. Sand also filled irrigation ditches that had been built across the creek’s path causing much complaint from the owners.

Flume “Wiped Away”

On May 23, 1891 a massive flash flood poured out of Cottonwood Creek canyon. The Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman reported eye-witnesses saw a wall of water ten feet high emerge from the mouth of the canyon. The reporter dramatically described the scene: “As though nature was determined to avenge the affront of man in attempting to divert the natural course of one of her streams, the water in its mad rush could not be stopped by the frail wooden barrier that stood in its path, but wiped away at its first onslaught the flume and swept triumphantly along the old bed of the stream…Nearly every street in the northeast part of the city soon became the scene of a raging torrent of muddy water which tore along unchecked carrying great masses of broken limbs and other debris.”  He concluded, “Thousands of dollars have already been spent upon the Cottonwood Creek flume which was knocked ‘galley-west’ yesterday, and it will cost a pretty penny to rebuild the work on a proper scale.”

After more flooding in May 1892, the Boise City Council voted in September of that year to replace the primarily wooden flume with a stone aqueduct. The new flume was built with sandstone blocks from the foothills quarry. It was built in a V-shape and back-filled with sand at a cost of $9,000.

A section of the flume

The V-shape can be seen today in this section of the flume at Flume Ct.

“The Most Inexcusable Botch”

The first break in the new aqueduct occurred on March 29, 1893, just months after it was constructed. The sand back fill gave away about 100 yards below Main St. In a scathing editorial, the Idaho Daily Statesman wrote, “The flume was the most inexcusable botch that could be conceived of…Long sections of the flume were built on top of the ground, with nothing but a narrow bank of sand on either side to support the loose stone work.” The flume continued to give way requiring city crews to continuously patrol and repair it. The expensive problems with the flume didn’t win four-term mayor James Pinney any friends at the Idaho Daily Statesman.  The editors called Mayor Pinney foolish to have “built the Cottonwood aqueduct upon the sand.”

Mayor Supervises Flume Repair

A new mayor, Peter Sonna, was sworn in on July 15, 1893. According to the Idaho Daily Statesman, Mayor Sonna personally supervised repair work on the flume in October of that year.  A new rock wall was built, and concrete was poured into the gap between the flume and the wall. The outside of the flume may have been more secure, but the inside of the flume still filled with sand, and, as a consequence, Cottonwood Creek overtopped and broke the flume and flooded the new East Side Addition neighborhood in March 1894.  Mayor Sonna, relieved the water was flowing east and not west down Main St., delayed repair work until the high flows had ended. The flume was filled with three feet of sand, and yards throughout the neighborhoods were “washed full of sand,” according to the Idaho Daily Statesman.

Emergency repairs were made to the Cottonwood flume year after year after year. The city continued to develop and more houses were built in the East Side Addition and in the Central Addition. The population grew to 5,957 by 1900.  Then came March of 1904, when 2.46 inches of rain fell in 24 hours.

Part 2 of a blog series exploring the history of Cottonwood Creek. Made possible by the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Boise River Enhancement Network.

The Cottonwood Creek Daylighting Project

The Boise River Enhancement Network is a partner in a cooperative project to daylight Cottonwood Creek where it flows through Julia Davis Park and enters the Boise River. The creek currently runs through a stone flume under the park. A new natural creek channel will be constructed benefiting fish and wildlife, water quality and park visitors. The project leads are City of Boise and Trout Unlimited and partners include the Intermountain Bird Observatory, Ada County Highway District, Golden Eagle Audubon Society, and Land Trust of the Treasure Valley. The project is funded, in part, by the US Bureau of Reclamation, the City of Boise Open Space and Clean Water Fund and the Idaho Foundation for Fish and Wildlife.

A Typical Day—in Rhyme

By Tom McCabe

The Screech Owl sings in the middle of the night

The Juncos are feeding at first light.

Goldfinches come—American and Lesser

I grab the binos from the dresser.

A Robin whinnies and a House Finch sings

Mourning Doves come and flutter their wings.

A Nuthatch calls as I head out the door

Bundled for the cold, but happy to the core.

Yellow-rumped Warbler greets me daily

Cedar Waxwings whisper gaily.

A Downy Woodpecker calls to me

I know it’s him though I cannot see.

At State Street the “Church Pigeons” sit on a cross

While a group of Crows decide who’s boss.

Magpies and Collared Doves make their noise

While Ruby Crowned Kinglets look like toys.

Then on to the river and the many water birds

They gather in numbers that look like herds.

Mallards and Wigeons and Gadwalls, oh my,

Plus both kinds of Mergansers, then a Heron flies by.

A Bald Eagle sits in a tree by the river,

Every time I see him it gives me a shiver.

The pleasure at showing him to any and all

Who wouldn’t have noticed him though he sits so tall.

I hear the Geese honk and the Kingfisher rattle

While down in the brush the Wren seems to tattle.

A Red-tail sits and surveys a field

Though often to a Kestrel he must yield.

The Wood Ducks are plenty and pretty as can be

And Common Goldeneye are a sight to see.

A Northern Pintail is an occasional star

And sometimes a Merlin appears from afar.

These are my friends that I look for each day

Though often when they see me, they fly away.

But I still keep biking and looking around

Hoping to find one that no one has found.

A daily quest that keeps me going

Although I never go out whenever it’s snowing.

It makes me happy in these crazy times,

Watching birds and making rhymes.

Birders Gather Data for Cottonwood Creek Project

by Heidi Ware Carlisle, BSU Intermountain Bird Observatory

The east end of Julia Davis Park in downtown Boise will be transformed over the next year. What’s now a mono-culture of turf with scattered mature trees will make way for a vibrant small creek with aquatic and riparian vegetation taking root. Willows, Wood’s Rose, Golden Currant, Red-osier Dogwood and other native plants will grow on the banks of the new Cottonwood Creek and provide habitat for resident and migratory birds. Read about the Cottonwood Creek Daylighting Project.

Before and After

Without knowing what birds frequent the park now, it will be hard to measure the impacts of the project. To answer this question, BREN and project partner the BSU Intermountain Bird Observatory turned to local birders. In an example of citizen science at its best, local birders have been enlisted via eBird to document what they find when they go birding at the project site.

Eight dedicated birders have submitted eBird checklists for the Cottonwood Creek Daylighting Project so far. It’s exciting to see the power of citizen science at work, collecting pre-construction data on this project. All together, our volunteers have done the equivalent of eighteen in depth bird surveys by submitting complete eBird checklists of every bird they identified in the area. 

No Suprises Yet

So far, our census results are as expected. With no understory habitat or shrubs for riparian birds to use, the counts have been somewhat low. Even so, our volunteers have meticulously documented twenty individual species using the area. You can view the whole species list here: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L8014605

A few species are of particular interest:

Black-capped Chickadees have been detected in the area, using the river corridor. These are a riparian-habitat-loving bird that live along the Boise River. It is a good sign that Chickadees visit this project area already. Chickadees are know for exploring, often moving up and down the river in search of good habitat. As restoration begins and more habitat is created there is a good chance that chickadees will be one of the first species to colonize this new area. These little birds are major insectivores in the summer, so we know they will enjoy hunting for caterpillars and other food in the newly planted shrubs

Black-capped chickadee photo by Ken Miracle

Canada Geese are the only species that has been detected on all 18 surveys! But this isn’t surprising, since the future location of Cottonwood Creek is currently grass….which just happens to be their favorite food! Canada Geese are likely one of the only species that won’t love the Cottonwood Creek Project. They like wide open spaces (with no cover for potential predators to hide in) and green grass. As we add native shrubs and plants, we expect Canada Geese to visit this area less often…..hooray for less goose poop!

Canada goose and goslings photo by Ken Miracle

The Song Sparrow is a nondescript passerine bird and not much to look at, but it has a beautiful song! Song Sparrows are a species that nests in low dense vegetation near waterways. The new plantings we will do as part of the Cottonwood Creek project will provide fantastic nesting habitat for Song Sparrows within just a few years! It won’t take long to get native habitat established that Song Sparrows will love to use!

Song sparrow photo by Ken Miracle

Yellow-rumped Warblers are a migratory species that visits the Treasure Valley during spring and fall migration, as well as the winter. For migrating birds, it’s not just about nesting habitat. They need to have good habitat in both their summer and winter grounds! By restoring Cottonwood Creek, we would ensure that the Yellow-rumped Warblers that visit us have a place to call home while they are here.

Yellow-rumped warbler photo by Ken Miracle

Get Involved

Do you want to get out and see what the Cottonwood Creek Project is all about? Visit this link to learn more about how you can contribute. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Lz7Mc2-JFNS64_RrLVFVsEFZ62aOcB2OLI9mxIgqvdg/edit# We are excited to watch the data and bird sightings change over time as this project moves forward, and we hope you’ll join us!

Cottonwood Creek: “A Great Source of Trouble and Expense”

A deep freeze had clenched the Boise valley for weeks and snow lay thick on the foothills. In mid-January the temperature shot up to a balmy 50 degrees and rain began to fall.  Day after day the rain continued. On January 21, 1866, according to the January 23, 1866 edition of the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman, “Cottonwood Creek came out of its bed and appropriated the whole of Main street to the depth of six to twelve inches.”

Luckily for the approximately 800 people that lived in Boise in 1866, the floodwaters were kept out of most of the Main St. cellars. But Cottonwood Creek continued to be a “great source of trouble and expense.” Winter rain-on-snow storms, spring freshets, and heavy summer downpours caused the creek to rise precipitously and follow the path of least resistance down 6th Street to Main Street to the Boise River.

The Fort, the City and the Creek

In July 1863, the U.S. Army established Fort Boise on a slight rise overlooking Cottonwood Creek. It appears that the nation’s river experts, the Army Corps of Engineers, were busy elsewhere and did not participate in the decision on where to locate the Fort. The low-lying part of the Fort was built in the path of Cottonwood Creek.

Not long after this, in August 1863, Boise City founders laid out a townsite about a half-mile away. The initial plat was for ten blocks on each side of Main Street between 5th Street and 10th Street.  Fort Boise and Cottonwood Creek were thought to be a good distance away, but actually the channel of the creek cut diagonally through the townsite. During the periods when the creek flow was low or non-existent there were no problems, but when the waters rose, Cottonwood Creek made a beeline for Main Street. So began an expensive battle against the floodwaters and this battle continues to the present day.

Fort Boise is in the foreground of this historic drawing. The Cottonwood Creek channel can be seen.

8,000 Acres and 3,000 Feet

Cottonwood Creek is the largest tributary to the lower Boise River. It drains an 8,000‐acre watershed of the Boise Front, northeast of downtown Boise.  The headwaters of Cottonwood Creek are at 5,600 feet elevation, nearly 3,000 feet above Fort Boise. The watershed was heavily grazed in the late 1800’s and many mines were dug in the upper reaches.

“Quite an excitement prevailed”

By 1881, the population of Boise had more than doubled and the battle with Cottonwood Creek escalated.

As reported by the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman on February 3 and 5, 1881, incessant rains on the snow-covered foothills “caused such a rushing of the waters from the melted snow on the lower slopes of the mountains that all the small streams have been swollen into rivers.”  Cottonwood Creek “came sweeping down through the outskirts of the town into Sixth street, and thence into Main street at the Statesman office. In a few minutes these streets were flooded; many residences were surrounded by water, and quite an excitement prevailed.”

An army of towns folk jumped into action “to check the rushing of the flood down Main street.” The US Army at Fort Boise also sprang into action, but the newspaper reported the water “baffled them and found its way out of the proper channel.” The newspaper office was located on Sixth Street and the reporter had a front row seat to watch “the torrent again rushing down Sixth and Idaho streets, and threatening every moment to break the temporary embankment that had been thrown across Main street at the crossing of Main and Sixth.  The streets were soon filled with men rushing hither and thither with lanterns, and every possible effort was made to keep the water in its passage down Sixth street.”

“Considerable Damage Was Done”

The rain continued into the next day and despite a force of 50 men mustered by the Mayor to work on the dam at Fort Boise, Cottonwood Creek “suddenly rose some two or three feet.” The temporary dams at 6th and Main, “gave away and the water took its coveted way again down Main street. Many residences were surrounded by water to the great discomfort of the inmates, and considerable damage was done to property by the flooding of cellars, and compelling the removal of carpets and other furniture.”

Cottonwood Creek continued to flow through the eastern part of Boise well into March 1881. On July 30, 1881 the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman editor wrote, “This creek has been a great source of trouble and expense to Boise City.” The City Council was moved to action. On September 22, 1881 an advertisement appeared in the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman stating the City was accepting bids for the construction of a stone flume on Cottonwood Creek.

Part I of a blog series exploring the history of Cottonwood Creek. Made possible by the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Boise River Enhancement Network.

The Cottonwood Creek Daylighting Project

The Boise River Enhancement Network is a partner in a cooperative project to ‘daylight’ Cottonwood Creek where it flows through Julia Davis Park and enters the Boise River. The creek currently runs through a stone flume under the park. A new open creek channel will be constructed for the creek benefiting fish and wildlife, water quality and park visitors, and the flume will be ‘retired.’ The project leads are City of Boise and Trout Unlimited.  Partners include the Intermountain Bird Observatory, Ada County Highway District, Golden Eagle Audubon Society, and Land Trust of the Treasure Valley. The project is funded, in part, by the US Bureau of Reclamation, the City of Boise Open Space and Clean Water Fund, and the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Boise River Water Quality Just Got Better

After what seemed like an eternity of disrupted traffic for State St. commuters, the new State St. and Veterans Memorial Parkway intersection is finished. Congratulate yourself if you’ve figured out how to negotiate the turn lanes. From the perspective of the Boise River, the inconvenience was well worth it. Improvements in stormwater management make this $8 million Ada County Highway District (ACHD) project a big win for fish and aquatic health.

No More Stormwater Discharge to the River

New stormwater facilities have replaced the pipes that carried pollutant-laden water directly from State St., 36th St. and Veterans Memorial Parkway to the Boise River for decades. A combination of seepage beds, bioswales and stormwater basins now capture runoff from nearly 30 acres. From Whitewater Blvd. on the east to just beyond Arthur St. on the west and from Anderson St. on the north to N. Stilson Road on the south, stormwater is now captured and infiltrated into the ground improving water quality in the Boise River.

Stormwater basin on State St, Oct, 9, 2018

A basin on the south side of State St. captures stormwater from 3 acres west of the intersection. A  large basin with a forebay located on the west side of Veterans Memorial Parkway captures stormwater from most of the project area – 26.75 acres. Two small basins collect neighborhood stormwater at the Glendale St. and Alameda St. cul-de-sacs.

 

 

Stormwater basin on VMP Nov 7, 2018

During the Oct. 9, 2018 storm

Stormwater discharge at Americana Bridge

Stormwater Carries Pollutants

While ACHD, Boise and Garden City have not permitted new buildings and roads to discharge stormwater to the Boise River for decades, stormwater from hundreds of miles of roads still travels through pipes to the Boise River. Stormwater washes pollutants off roadways, and sediment, bacteria, nutrients, oil, grease, heavy metals and trash are flushed into the Boise River. The Boise River Enhancement Plan recommends use of green stormwater infrastructure like these basins to treat stormwater onsite.

Clean Water is Essential for a Healthy Boise River

Portions of the Boise River do not meet water quality standards established by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. The levels of sediment, bacteria and phosphorus in the river harm fish and other aquatic organisms and have a negative impact on recreation. Discharge of untreated stormwater water to the river is one source of these pollutants. All of the water you see in the stormwater basins is water that used to dump directly into the river by Veterans Memorial Parkway bridge.

Wow! Is That a Stormwater Basin?

ACHD stormwater detention facilities have traditionally been very utilitarian. A big dirt basin surrounded by a chain link fence is a common look. ACHD made a major shift in 2017 by adopting new policies that require stormwater basins be vegetated. Vegetation improves the aesthetics of the basins and the plants uptake pollutants and provide habitat for birds and pollinators. The stormwater basins on State St. and Veterans Memorial Parkway have been seeded with native wetland and dryland plants including perennial bunchgrasses, sedges, and bulrush. A temporary irrigation system has been installed at the Veterans Memorial Pond to help the plants become established.

Permeable pavers in downtown Boise alley

ACHD has built many green stormwater facilities in recent years including permeable pavers in downtown alleys, and bio-retention planters at 15th and State St. and on Capitol Blvd.

More Improvements Ahead

Large transportation and redevelopment projects are underway across the Treasure Valley.  Stormwater from these projects must be retained onsite. Water quality will continue to improve as more and more stormwater is treated onsite.  Keep that in mind next time you’re stuck in a construction-related traffic jam.

Urban Reserve Feels the Love

120 youth and adults took to the hillsides at the City of Boise’s Hyatt Hidden Lake Reserve in October to create healthier habitat for birds and reduce fire risk. Armed with shovels of all sizes, trowels, and even a post hole digger, the determined volunteers dug through the rocky soil to plant nearly 2,000 native plants. The community planting days were the final public activity for the Hyatt Multi-Cultural Habitat Enhancement Project. The project is led by the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley, Boise River Enhancement Network and City of Boise, funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and supported by numerous local partners.

    

Employees of Corporate Stewardship Partner Xylem      Xylem employee Jessop and sons

A big team of employees from BREN’s 2018 Corporate Stewardship Partner, Xylem Watermark, participated as well as groups from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Idaho, College of Western Idaho, Boise Veteran’s Administration, Suez, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Tomorrow’s Hope.  Dozens of community members helped as well. The plants were planted along the upper western edge of the reserve and in the area behind the Maple Grove parking lot.

            

        

Lots of plants in the ground and lots of smiling faces!

15-Month Makeover

Over the last 15 months, BREN and LTTV have involved hundreds of community members in activities to improve the habitat at the 44-acre urban reserve. All told, close to 3,000 plants have been planted. 1,500 fire resistant, resilient and drought-tolerant grasses – Sandberg bluegrass, Idaho fescue, bottlebrush squirreltail, and bluebunch wheatgrass – were planted.  Native shrubs were planted – golden current, woods rose, rabbitbrush, bitterbrush, sagebrush, and oakleaf sumac – to crowd out invasive weeds and provide foraging habitat for birds. Willow and thinleaf alder were planted to improve habitat close to the ponds and yarrow, hoary aster and milkweed were planted to support pollinators.

Hundreds of people helped with planting in 2017 and 2018 including the groups listed above and local Rotary Clubs, Boy Scout Troop 100, and the Idaho Fine Arts Academy Interact Club. Idaho Power, Rotary, and the Native Plant Network donated plants to the project.

Volunteers Grow Plants from Seeds

Hundreds of plants now nestled snugly at the reserve were grown by project volunteers. In an incredible display of purpose, volunteers gathered seeds from flowering plants at the reserve in the fall of 2017 and germinated them over the winter.  The seedlings were transplanted in the spring and nurtured over the hot summer months.  Girl Scout Troop 105, College of Western Idaho, Big Brothers Big Sisters of SW Idaho, new Americans from Nepal and other volunteers grew plants. The Golden Eagle Audubon Society Native Plant Network and Land Trust of the Treasure Valley supervised.

       

Spencer and Jon grew plants       New Americans grew plants         Rachelle helps transplant   

Weed Warriors

Volunteers also helped remove unwanted plants.  In 2017, employees of Xylem Watermark helped Boise Parks and Recreation take out Russian olive trees and provide space for willows and black cottonwoods. Volunteer Weed Warriors trained by City of Boise Open Space Restoration Specialist Martha Brabec worked weekly to remove thistle, teasel, goat heads and other weeds.

       

Weeds warriors Dondi, Hilary, John and Anne

Discovering the Reserve

The partnership project hosted field trips and birding outings to the reserve, which, in addition to the stewardship activities, introduced hundreds of people to this hidden oasis.  It was common to hear people exclaim that they’d driven by for years and never stopped. The increase in awareness and appreciation for the unique area is vital to ensure long term community stewardship of the reserve. The project also provided new residents from many nations the opportunity to visit the reserve and learn about the birds and plants.  BREN volunteers and others led groups from the Idaho Office of Refugees, the Agency for New Americans and new residents from Nepal around the reserve and provided binoculars to increase the fun. A big thanks to Golden Eagle Audubon Society and the Boise Watershed for helping.

Stewardship to Continue

Boise City Parks and Recreation and local organizations will continue to enhance the habitat and provide opportunities for citizen stewardship of the Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve. The new plants will require attention until they are well-established. Weed management will always be needed.  Please contact the Boise River Enhancement Network to be added to the volunteer email list.

The Hyatt Multi-Cultural Habitat Enhancement Project was led by the Land Trust of the Treasure ValleyBoise River Enhancement Network, and the City of Boise. Project partners include U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho Office of Refugees by Jannus, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Idaho, Golden Eagle Audubon Society, Intermountain Bird Observatory, Boise State University, The Wetlands Group, Idaho Fish and Game, Idaho Weed Awareness Campaign, College of Western Idaho, and Partners for Clean Water.

Goal Reached to Restore Greenbelt Bridge!

By Jan Johns, Executive Director Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands

September 23 – UPDATE

We met our fundraising goal!

We asked for your help, and you stepped up big time! Thanks to the generosity of you and your neighbors, the Plantation Island Greenbelt bridge and pathway will soon be restored.

Just last month we, the Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands, spread the word that we needed your help to repair the Plantation Island bridge that had spanned the beloved Greenbelt. And you listened!

We shared that we had received partial funding for the repairs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). We called on you to help us raise the extra $75,000 needed to get us across the finish line. You did it! As of today we have raised the funds and are gearing up to get the bridge back in action! We could not have done it without you. Thank you!

Special thanks to Foundation for Ada and Canyon County Trail Systems, Linda Yanke, Don and Kay McCarter, and Citizens for an Open Greenbelt for their generous gifts, and to all of you in the community who gave gifts of all sizes! Thanks as well to all the individuals, businesses and organizations that helped spread the word.

Original Post:

Have you asked yourself, “When in the heck is the Greenbelt over the Boise River near the Plantation Golf Course going to be fixed?” Well, you are not alone!

The Flood of 2017 Damages Greenbelt

The west bridge at Plantation Island was located on land owned by the Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands (IFPL), a public benefit nonprofit corporation. During the high water in 2017, the City of Boise, Ada County and the Ada County Highway District paid for the removal of the bridge because the bank was eroding around the bridge abutments. The undamaged bridge was lifted off its abutments by a crane on April 3, 2017 and put down near the Western Idaho Fairgrounds, where it sits today. The bank loss and Greenbelt damage on Plantation Island from the extended record-breaking flow of the Boise River was extensive.

damaged Greenbelt    

Emergency Funds Delayed

Governor Otter declared a flood emergency for Ada County that allowed IFPL to apply for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help with repair costs. Unfortunately, hurricanes and massive forest fires across the nation stretched FEMA resources thin, delaying funding approval for more than a year.

But wait, there’s good news!

Finally, in late June 2018, IFPL received approval from FEMA for partial funding to make the necessary repairs and replace the the bridge. Hoorah! The total repair costs are estimated at $200,000 and FEMA has granted IFPL $120,000. IFPL must now raise at least $75,000.

Bridge Repair Fundraising Campaign Launched

Between now and October, IFPL is fundraising to secure the needed funds. Everyone is asked to pitch in to restore this important bridge between the south and north sides of the river.  Commuters use this route as do children going to school, people going to the fairgrounds, Hawks Stadium, Garden City Library, and many other destinations. Plantation Island is also a great place to birdwatch, walk your dog or go fishing. The Foundation aims to raise the money in the next few months so the work can be done when the Boise River is at low winter flow levels.

Make a gift today!

Help Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands restore the beloved Plantation Island Greenbelt Bridge. Time is of the essence. Donate now. Thank you!

The west bridge to Plantation Island has been gone since April, 2017.

Parma Rancher Tackles Water Quality

return flowThe Pintail Ranch straddles the Boise River near the Highway 95 bridge by Parma, ID. Doug Bates bought the the beautiful property, in part, to create and improve wildlife habitat on the ranch. Little did he know what was happening on his ranch was harming the fish and wildlife that live in the Boise River. Being a man with a strong stewardship ethic, Mr. Bates has decided to tackle this problem. He’s beginning a phased conversion to a new irrigation system that will prevent tons of sediment from entering the Boise River each year.

Flood Irrigation Causes Problems

Corn is the primary crop at the 1,000-acre ranch, but there are large sections of ground kept in pasture and grazed by cattle.  The row crop land has been irrigated for decades by either pumping or gravity feeding water from the Boise River down long corrugates after which the excess water returns to the river.  Water is delivered to the pastures in the same manner, but the water spreads across the pasture and then returns to the river.

corn field irrgation

water in corrugates

This method of irrigation tends to be inefficient, requiring more water to be delivered than the plants can use. This is because fields aren’t flat and additional water has to be dispersed over the ground to irrigate the high spots. As the water flows through the fields it collects sediment, pesticides, chemicals, fertilizer, and phosphates and carries these substances into the Boise River. The moving water also erodes the river bank and field bottoms.   Slag pools form at the bottom of the fields and the cattle tend to wallow there. Cattle actively graze irrigated pastures, also.  Contaminants from cattle excrement are carried to the river in the irrigation run off.

The Pintail Ranch has summer irrigation water rights of approximately 46 cubic feet per second. This equates to the delivery of several million gallons of return water (accompanied by chemicals, fertilizers, and sediment) to the Boise River every 24 hours when the ranch is in full summer irrigation mode.

New Pivot Irrigation System

Mr. Bates is installing pivot sprinkler irrigation on four fields totaling 162.5 acres.  Pivots are more efficient and can irrigate the same acres with less water than needed in traditional flood and ditch irrigation.  Field runoff is nearly eliminated, and chemicals, sediments, and fertilizers stay on the ground promoting crop growth instead of being dumped into the river.  As a result, tons of sediment, along with with phosphorus and other pollutants from these fields will no longer enter the Boise River each year.pivotsinplace

The challenge with pivots should be no surprise; they are very expensive.  Mr. Bates received assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Canyon Soil and Water Conservation District in Caldwell to design the new irrigation system.  In July, the Lower Boise Watershed Council and Canyon Soil and Water Conservation District awarded Pintail Ranch 50% of the project cost, $187,500, from the 2018 State Agricultural BMP Implementation fund.  Phases 1 and 2 have started and are expected to be completed in the spring of 2019.

Mr. Bates said, “Although expensive, we think using pivots instead of ditch and flood watering methodologies is an elegant solution for irrigation.  Pivot irrigation is more efficient in terms of water usage and farming overhead. Most important, we avoid excessive discharge of phosphates, sediment (erosion), and other chemicals into our primary river systems.  We also believe the habitat and wildlife benefit from pivot irrigation methodologies.”

On-site Pollution Management

Agricultural best management practices, including conversion to sprinkler irrigation, are recommended in the Boise River Enhancement Plan. Managing pollution on-site is the best way to improve water quality. Conversion from flood to sprinkler irrigation has been proven to be effective in reducing the movement of sediment and pollutants from the field to the river.

All photos provided by Doug Bates.

deer