A Brief History of the Dam
Barber Dam is a timber-crib dam constructed by the Barber Lumber Company between 1904 and 1906 to create a mill pond for log storage. It also provided power to the mill and also to the town of Barberton (established in 1910). Barber Dam was one of the first dams constructed on the Boise River. The resulting pool was affected by sediment from mining in places like Idaho City until the construction other dams upstream on the Boise River.
The mill closed during the Great Depression and subsequently changed hands several times. In 1977, Ada County acquired the dam after the then current owner failed to pay taxes. Between the Great Depression and mid-1970s, the powerhouse was abandoned. In 1978, the dam and powerhouse were added to the National Register of Historic Places.
In December 1983, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a 40-year license allowing for the construction, maintenance, and operation of a new powerhouse. In 1989, Fulcrum LLC (a subsidiary of Enel Green Power North America, Inc.) partnered with Ada County to operate the powerhouse and maintain the dam under a lease agreement. Thus, Fulcrum and Ada County are co-licensees of the dam. The current license expires on November 30, 2023.
In August 2020, Ada County agreed to sell the dam to Barber Pool Hydro LLC contingent on the purchaser obtaining the license from FERC. Although Barber Pool Hydro has applied for the transfer of the license, FERC has not acted on that application.
Current Status of Barber Dam Relicensing
At least five years before a license expires, the license holder must file a notice with FERC stating their intention to seek a new license. FERC has several licensing processes, of which Fulcrum and Ada County elected to use the Traditional Licensing Process. Fulcrum filed a notice of intent and pre-application document on November 30, 2018. At that point BREN, along with several other environmental organizations, irrigation districts, and the state and local government began to participate in the relicensing process. Over the course of the next several years, Fulcrum and FERC received input on studies needed, the pre-application document, draft application document, and final application document. Fulcrum continued to file documents with FERC, but detailed information for some elements, such as information pertaining to dam safety, is protected from view by non-governmental entities and the public under the Critical Energy Infrastructure Information (CEII) provisions of Homeland Security regulations.
In June 2022, the applicants filed a notice correcting several deficiencies in their final application covering such items as a better description of the drainage area for the dam, annual insurance costs, a detailed single-line electrical diagram, more information on reconstruction of the portage take-out above the dam, and a better land ownership map. In July 2022, the applicants filed a report concerning FERC’s additional requests for information on 17 items concerning construction of a new spillway weir, invasive “weed” management, management of the historical sites within the Barber Dam project area, and recreation management and nearby amenities.
Currently, Fulcrum must complete a dam safety assessment based on a sunny-day dam breach as their previous assessment did not meet relicensing requirements. As noted by input from the Idaho Department of Water Resources, Barber Dam poses a significant hazard potential given the increase in recreational use that has occurred downstream since the original license was granted. Earlier, the applicants had stated that Barber Dam posed a low hazard potential. Further, the original assessment of the dam safety hazard was based on November flows of the Boise River instead of typical flows during the float season. As a part of this assessment, the applicants are required to participate in a workshop in September 2022 and test of their Emergency Action Plan prior to September 2023.
The applicants are also in the process of updating their recreation study based on requests from BREN and the National Park Service. BREN maintains copies of all correspondence received from FERC and provided by BREN on our organization’s corporate Google drive.
As of November 1, 2022, FERC opened scoping for the environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). At this point they are unsure if the document will be an environmental assessment (EA) or an environmental impact statement (EIS). FERC is soliciting comments and suggestions on their preliminary list of issues and alternatives to be addressed; a copy of the Scoping Document 1 is posted on BREN’s website here. In addition, FERC will hold two public meetings, one on November 29 staring at 7 pm at the Ada County Courthouse and another at 9 am on November 30, also at the Ada County Courthouse. There will also be an environmental site review on November 29 at 1 pm.
For more information visit BREN’s Barber Dam Relicensing Project Page.
BREN Coordinating Team Vice Chair
Barber Pool looking upriver from the portage site.