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.