New River Campus Opens at Boise WaterShed

By Julie Scanlin and Cindy Busche


Boise WaterShed River Campus

Drip. Drop. Sploosh!

Like raindrops dropping one by one on pavement, gathering together and gaining momentum as they flow to the river, the creative ideas of artists, engineers, educators, landscapers and exhibit designers flow together to form a confluence on the new River Campus at the Boise WaterShed Environmental Education Center.

A public grand opening is scheduled for Saturday, April 15 from 10:00-1:00 – join us to see the “new” WaterShed and the largest collection of Public Art in the State of Idaho.

The 2-acre living display and the renovated interior exhibit hall transform the messages of conservation and protection in an experiential way. However, it’s how the story is told that makes this a unique cultural destination.

boy and girlThrough the interpretation of artists, and the lens of science, we tell the story of our watershed through public art in the River Campus. Visitors will experience water cascading from the headwaters, flowing into Lucky Peak Reservoir. They can manage the water flowing from Lucky Peak Dam and stroll past the City of Trees, through a facsimile of the water renewal facility, then follow the flow of the river, past wildlife, agricultural areas, and a wetland.


interactive water displayVisitors will have a better understanding of how their actions upstream impact the water availability and water quality downstream. Families and young visitors will enjoy the sewer pipe play area and learn the importance of a healthy ecosystem with nature play in the interactive trail. More than 179,000 people have experienced the Boise WaterShed’s programs since 2008. The renovated exhibit hall and upgraded exhibits now welcome them back and invite new experiences for young and old.

BREN’s  Boise River Enhancement Plan recognizes the critical role of education facilities and programs in engaging the public in the important work of taking care of the Boise River. Congratulations to City of Boise and the Boise WaterShed Exhibits Inc. for investing in the future of our river and our community.


exterior photo

Floodplains Are Refuge for Fish in High Water

by Michael K. Homza, PE

It’s humbling to stand on the banks of the Boise River as it roars by above its official flood discharge of high water Boise River7,200 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs). It’s deep, cold and fast. I wonder if I could survive an attempt to
swim across to the other bank. I shudder at the thought. Luckily, I don’t have to be in the river; but what about the fish? How do they survive this roiling rollercoaster? Aren’t they just swept away during high flows? Where do they go in high water? The short answer is simple: floodplains.

As Tamsen Binggeli mentioned in her March 6, 2017 blog, floodplains provide many benefits including flood moderation, water quality improvement, recreation and habitat diversity. (Reference 1) For this discussion, floodplains include smaller side channels, sloughs, wetlands, beaver ponds and other areas of inundation beyond the river’s main channel.

Floodplain Diversity Supports A Healthy Fishery

Fish typically escape a river’s fast flood flows in floodplains. They usually spread out and find refuge in slower moving water as the river spreads out. (Reference 2) This preserves a fish’s metabolic energy and promotes fish growth. Juvenile fish also use floodplains as nurseries as they develop and grow.

Generally speaking, the quality of a floodplain’s habitat is directly proportional to its diversity. This is because different fish species, life stages and food sources utilize different types of habitat. Diversity in aquatic and riparian habitat supports species diversity and health. Variations in water depth, water velocity, substrate composition, in-stream wood and rock formations and streamside vegetative cover all play important roles in habitat diversity and quality.

Water temperature is also an important factor with respect to floodplain suitability because fish are cold blooded. As cold floodwater enters a floodplain from the river, it spreads out, slows down, deposits sediment and warms slightly. Phytoplankton and algae – fast-growing aquatic plant life – grow as this occurs. Populations of zooplankton and other aquatic invertebrates, including insects – which comprise the main food source for juvenile fish – feed on this aquatic plant life. If water is too cold, juvenile fish are lethargic and growth is slow. If the water is too warm it causes increased metabolic demands and reduced dissolved oxygen, inhibiting growth and increasing mortality. (Reference 3)

Floodplain Habitat Beneficial for Fish Growth

A 2008 study out by the University of California, Davis (Reference 3) underscores just how important floodplains are in the development of Salmonids. (Fish belonging to the taxonomic family of Salmonidae, which includes salmon, trout, char and whitefish.) In this study, juvenile Chinook salmon were placed in two different types of enclosures when the wild salmon would naturally be rearing in fish studyfloodplain habitats in and along the Cosumnes River in California. One group of enclosure represented the open, faster water associated with the river, whereas the second group of enclosure was placed on the river’s inundated floodplain. Overall, the study concluded that the juvenile fish realized higher growth rates and lower mortality in the floodplain habitat when compared to those in the river habitat. The photo shows the juvenile salmon from these two study groups; the larger ones being the fish reared in the floodplain enclosure.

Preserve and Protect the Boise River Floodplain

Of course, a healthy, diverse floodplain must exist to support a healthy fishery. The floodplain must also be hydraulically connected to the river and not cut off by levees, roads, culverts and other barriers. Currently, the Boise River possesses these attributes only marginally as its tributaries, side channels, wetlands and other floodplain features have been sacrificed to land development over time.

brown trout

Boise Brown trout. Photo Eric Brecker

As development continues along the Boise River corridor, we must employ measures that protect, preserve and enhance the river’s floodplains to maintain the river’s native fishery and all the other benefits the river and its floodplains provide. BREN’s Boise River Enhancement Plan recommends removing or setting back confining elements like levees and re-establishing or creating side channel habitat to improve aquatic habitat. And for your safety – take a lesson from the fish – stay out of the river’s fast flowing flood water!

Mike Homza is a long-time resident of Boise; President of Stream Line Design, LLC; Vice Chair of BREN and focuses his career on a enhancing rivers, stream and their floodplains.

Reference 1

Reference 2

Reference 3


Boise: A River Runs Through It

By Charlie Woodruff, Building A Greener Idaho

Our theme of From Snow to Flow continues this week with a conversation about the Boise River with Idaho Fish and Game Regional Fisheries Manager Joe Kozfkay and Freshwater Trust Idaho Program Manager Christy Meyer. Our beloved Boise River brings life to the high desert and flows through the heart of the city on it’s way to meet the Snake. The Boise River is an incredible asset that has been taken for granted in the past. These days many individuals and groups are working hard to protect and improve its health and vitality.

We’ll talk with Joe about the Boise River fishery, how the river ran dry one day, and his favorite fish to catch. Christy will share the great work the Boise River Enhancement Network (BREN) is doing to continually improve its health and protect it from threats like the encroachment of development. BREN recently helped complete an in-stream aquatic habitat enhancement project that might just be helping little brown trout babies find shelter from these recent high flows.

Listen to the 25-minute show.

Boise River System Snow and Water Review

by Steve Sweet, PE, Quadrant Consulting

Good news, as of March 11, 2017, according to data provided by the NRCS SNOTEL sites, the Boise basin snow-water equivalent moved up 7 percentage points since earlier in the week to 152% of normal.

You can see in the Boise System Storage graph below, that as of March 10, 2017, the pesky blue line (current reservoir storage) finally pierced the red line (30-year historic average of reservoir storage).

The relatively early and significant flood risk reduction releases this year unloaded another 55 thousand acre feet (kac-ft) out of the upstream reservoirs, leaving nearly 500 kac-ft of storage available in reservoir capacity (48%).

Meanwhile, the NRCS’s March 1 Streamflow Forecast is calling for nearly 2,500 kac-ft of runoff out of the Boise River in March-July (range 2,140 – 2,750), where the 30-yr average is 1,430. The underlying message is that we’re going to need to run approximately 2,500 kac-ft through a 500 kac-ft bag in the next few months. That’ll be more than we’re accustomed to seeing.

Now that the recent rain has dogged off and the sun has come out, inflow into the system bumped up from 2,400 cfs to 6,816 cfs. Increased inflow will add just a wee bit more pressure on our reservoir bag. Last week flows on the Boise River, as measured at Glenwood Bridge, eased into the official National Weather Service “Flood Stage,” when the 7,000 cfs marker was crossed on Tuesday, March 7. Since crossing the official threshold, flows have been steadily increasing to the 7,500 cfs range we’re seeing today. The last time we saw flows this high was in May of 2012 when the river peaked at 8,310 cfs.

Water managers continued moving water into Lake Lowell through the New York Canal. Last week, Lake Lowell increased 7.5 kac-ft. If the irrigators weren’t taking that water, that’d be an additional ~1,000 cfs through town. The next time you bump into an irrigator on the street or in the field, you might just offer a heart-felt “Thanks!” for what they’re doing to reduce flood risks.

Stay tuned.

Click here for more from Steve Sweet.

High Spring Flows Benefit Plants, Wildlife and People

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation announced that the flows released from Lucky Peak Reservoir will increase to around 7,000 cfs at Glenwood Bridge by Tuesday, March 7th. The increase in flows is expected to submerge large portions of the greenbelt and other low-lying areas but will help lessen flood risk later in the season, especially if rapid snow melt occurs.

Over the past decade, flow releases exceeded 7,000 cfs at the Glenwood Bridge in 2008, 2011 and 2012, and exceeded 6,000 cfs in 2009, 2010 and 2016 (USGS 2017). However, it is unusual for regulated flows of this magnitude to be released this early in the year. Current channel capacity ranges between 3,500 cfs and 10,000 cfs depending on location and changing conditions.

While minor flooding is expected to occur, high flows are beneficial to plants, wildlife and people along the Boise River. High flows inundate wetland and riparian areas within the floodplain that are not accessed during regular flows allowing for nutrient exchange; filtration, retention and removal of pollutants; groundwater recharge and discharge; food chain support; habitat for many species of birds and wildlife; and increased recreational and aesthetic opportunities. High flows also deposit sediment and clear away open ground for new plants to propagate, particularly willow and black cottonwood that are keystone ecosystem species.




Giving the River Space

High flows only become a problem when flooding of infrastructure occurs – a result of channel confinement and removal of floodplains by development, agriculture, transportation infrastructure and flood control measures. Healthy, connected floodplains give the River more room as it rises and slow down flood velocities, thereby reducing flood risk. Therefore, the Boise River Enhancement Plan identifies protection of existing floodplains as a top priority.

The Plan also identifies strategies to re-connect and enhance floodplains, including:

  • Lowering or setting back existing levees and berms
  • Re-contouring the floodplain to allow wetland and riparian habitats to re-establish
  • Removing barriers to stranded side channels
  • Excavating side channels and off-channel areas, such as wetlands.

Protecting and enhancing floodplains allows the river the capacity to safely pass higher flows that benefit us all.

Literature Cited

USGS. 2017. USGS 13206000 Boise River at Glenwood Bridge near Boise, Idaho. U.S. Department of Interior, Geological Survey, National Water Information System. Accessed March 5, 2017 at

Volunteers Protect Enhancement Project from Rising River

A dozen hard working volunteers pitched in on February 22 to install coconut fiber erosion control mat over topsoil at a new habitat enhancement project on the Boise River by Eckert Bridge. The $45,000 aquatic habitat enhancement project was finished late last year, but there hadn’t been time to replant vegetation and stabilize the soil before water levels began rising in the Boise River. When it was announced on Feb. 21 that water levels would rise above 5,000 cfs, project sponsor, the Ada County Environmental Advisory Board, sprang into action working with Idaho Department of Fish and Game to procure needed supplies and round up volunteers.  The disturbed ground at the two engineered log structures on the north side of the river was covered with the erosion control mat and anchored in with willow cuttings and wood stakes. The site on the south side was already fully submerged. ENEL Green Power pitched in providing volunteers and helping purchase supplies.  BREN provided volunteers and snacks. Thanks everyone.


Hard Workers


IDFG Restoration Coordinator Michael directs


Selena, Chair of Ada County Environmental Advisory Board


Zimo’s ready for fishing season


Christy from Freshwater Trust and BREN


Jeremy with ENEL Green Power


Kim lends a hand


Kyle with ENEL Green Power


Anchoring the coconut mat


Willows and wood used for stakes







BREN Assembles Collaborative Teams for Multi-Benefit Enhancement Projects

wood duckThe Boise River will have better habitat for fish and wildlife and cleaner water and more community members, including refugees, will participate in stewardship activities if funding is awarded to two BREN-facilitated collaborative enhancement projects.

Cottonwood Creek Daylighting Project

BREN partnered with the Ted Trueblood Chapter of Trout Unlimited, City of Boise, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Boise Valley Fly Fishers, Ada County Highway District, Intermountain Bird Observatory, and Land Trust of the Treasure Valley to apply for Phase II funding from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Cooperative Watershed Management Program for the Cottonwood Creek Daylighting Project. The creek now flows through a buried flume underneath Julia Davis Park before discharging to the river.

Cottonwood Creek flume

Cottonwood Creek

The Boise River Enhancement Plan identifies channel confinement and simplification as the #1 issue impairing geomorphology and fisheries habitat in the Boise River and recommends daylighting tributaries to improve habitat complexity. This exciting project would create an open stream channel through the park and improve the confluence with the river to allow for fish passage.  The daylighted creek will support salmonid spawning and rearing habitat and create new wetland and riparian habitat that supports wildlife and improves water quality.

The project includes a robust engagement, education and outreach component with many opportunities for volunteers to participate.  Knowledge transfer and inspiration will support similar collaborative efforts throughout the watershed. Awards will be announced in May.

Hyatt Hidden Lakes Multicultural Habitat Project

Hyatt Hidden Lakes

Hyatt Hidden Lakes

BREN teamed up with many partners to apply for funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Federation for the Hyatt Hidden Lakes Multicultural Habitat Project. The project will engage refugees from many nations and traditional conservation stewards in transforming weed-dominated uplands at the City of Boise’s Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve into healthy habitat for passerine birds and non-game animals.  The Boise River Enhancement Plan identifies invasive plants as a primary issue affecting habitat function and value, and the removal of invasive plants and planting of native vegetation is a top recommendation.

Under the leadership of BREN and the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley, the collaborative project will engage existing and new volunteers, including refugees who live nearby, to remove weeds and plant native trees, shrubs and grasses on 12 acres. Volunteers will collect local seeds and grow some of the plants for the project, greatly increasing plant survival. Partners will provide on-and-off site educational programs and host field trips and work days. BREN will share stories and photos of the project to increase support for Boise River enhancement.

Partners are City of Boise, Land Trust of the Treasure Valley, Golden Eagle Audubon Society, Idaho Weed Awareness Campaign, Partners for Clean Water, The Wetlands Group, Boise State University, Idaho Office of Refugees, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. Awards will be announced in July.

BREN Helps Local Stakeholders Collaborate

In 2011, lower Boise River stakeholders agreed that increased cooperation, communication and networking was needed to advance ecological enhancement of the river.  The Boise River Enhancement Network was founded to provide those essential connecting services; to serve stakeholders as a “backbone” organization whose staff or volunteers plan, manage, and support enhancement work. BREN facilitated development of the Boise River Enhancement Plan in 2014/2015, maintains a website, Facebook page and email list to support communication, hosts numerous educational events each year, engages members and volunteers in reviewing, designing and implementing enhancement projects and assembles collaborative teams to pursue funding for projects like these that align with the Enhancement Plan. Please let us know how BREN can support your enhancement project. 


Aquatic Habitat Project Completed

The Ada County Environmental Advisory Board’s aquatic habitat enhancement project in the Boise River near Barber Park and the Eckert Bridge was completed in early December. Boise River Enhancement Network members were a driving force to advance this first-of-its-kind project. The project addresses the lack of instream cover, habitat complexity and low-velocity resting areas identified in BREN’s Boise River Enhancement Plan. This outstanding collaborative project was led by Scott Koberg, Ada County Parks and Waterways Director and Joe Kozfkay, Regional Fisheries Manager Idaho Fish and Game with support from the Board, Harris Ranch, City of Boise, and others.


Above left – Project Manager Joe Kozfkay

Above – Selena, Kyle, Kate and Benny

Right – Christy and Tamsen


The $45,000 project included two strategies designed by Idaho Fish and Game to improve aquatic habitat by increasing channel complexity as well as providing more cover and current breaks; engineered log structures and boulders. The log structures, two on the north bank and one on the south, are partially buried in the riverbanks and anchored to the river bottom with log pilings. The boulders were carefully placed to improve channel dynamics.


Three vertical logs were pounded into the river bed to anchor the structure. Logs with root wads were buried into the bank and bolted and cabled to the anchors. A pool was excavated for the root wads. Smaller log were built into the structure and cabled in place. The anchors were trimmed to ground level, protective rocks were placed and planting mix was placed on top. Native plants will be planted in the early spring.



South bank – Good view of the large coffer dam installed to protect water quality during construction. Logs were sourced from the Broadway Bridge project and other local projects. The excavated pool provides more habitat around the wood. Rocks are placed upstream to divert flow that could stress the structure and fill in the pool. During higher flows the structures will be under water. The structures are very dense with wood.



Boulders were donated and placed up and downstream of Eckert Bridge.  The boulders were placed singly and in clusters.  They provide resting places, cover and current breaks.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game generously provided permitting, engineering and project management services necessary to implement this project. The project was funded by Ada County and EGP-NA, who operates Barber Dam and is a co-licensee with Ada County on the FERC license to generate power at the dam.

Thanks to Scott Koberg, Kate McGwire and Liz Paul for providing these photos.

BREN Comments on Ann Morrison Park Master Plan


November 21, 2016

Dear Tom Governale,

I am writing on behalf of the Boise River Enhancement Network (BREN.) BREN is a local network of over 200 members whose primary goal is to promote the ecological enhancement of the Boise River. BREN appreciates the opportunity to comment on the draft Ann Morrison Park Master Plan. We support the overall vision presented by the City of Boise to improve the park layout to make it more user-friendly and provide exciting new amenities.

We are happy to see numerous improvements to the park that will enhance habitat, including:

  • Removal of turf to make a wooded nature trail
  • Creation of wetland and riparian habitat along and near the existing pond
  • Enhancement of riparian habitat along sections of the river
  • Creation of a milkweed/pollinators garden
  • Enhancement of habitat along waterways within the park
  • Addition of a ramp accessible for trailered non-motorized boats
  • Improved water quality through a new stormwater management system.

Provided below are specific recommendations BREN requests the City consider:

  1. Protect riparian habitat along the river corridor. The river currently supports a large canopy of black cottonwoods along stretches of Ann Morrison Park. We support current plans to enhance this critical habitat. However, current plans will also result in the removal of riparian vegetation to make room for several beaches, a boardwalk, a boat launch, and river viewpoints. When possible, we recommend the City place these amenities in areas of existing access points to minimize removal of trees and encroachment of habitat. We also recommend the City consider scaling back on some of these amenities to avoid impacts to critical habitat.
  2. Actively manage recreation along the river. Current plans will attract more people to the River corridor. We recommend the City clearly mark formal access points and use passive controls (i.e. boulders, vegetation) or active controls (i.e. fencing) to direct users away from accessing the river corridor outside of approved access areas. The installment of beaches along the river and other modifications (such as the creation of a side channel) comes with risk of future channel instability. The City should invest in modeling and design services before any of these features are implemented. The City should also be prepared to invest in ongoing maintenance of the beach/beaches, if implemented, as erosion will likely be an issue.

Again, we appreciate the opportunity to provide input to the draft Master Plan layout for Ann Morrison Park.

Tamsen Binggeli
BREN Coordinating Team

Road Projects Benefit the Boise River

If you travel on State Street or Capitol Blvd. or frequent Traders Joes, Boise Brewery or other businesses on Broad Street, it’s been a season of lane closures, traffic delays and annoying inconvenience. You can take heart in your suffering – the Boise River will benefit from new stormwater management practices installed as part of these road projects.

Stormwater Pollutes the Boise River
stormwater discharge

Americana St. stormwater discharge. Photo Liz Paul

Stormwater is rain or snowmelt that flows off impervious surfaces like roads, parking lots, roofs and driveways and carries pollutants into the Boise River, including sediment, bacteria, nutrients, oil, grease, and heavy metals. The pollution can cause public health problems, promote growth of slimy algae, stress or kill bugs and fish, and generally gross river users out. For nearly a century, stormwater was piped to the Boise River, and while new discharges are prohibited, the old plumbing is still in use and polluted stormwater from older roads and neighborhoods still rushes to the river when it rains.

New Road Projects Capture Stormwater

There will be less polluted stormwater flowing into the Boise River this winter thanks to the installation of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) by the Ada County Highway District (ACHD) and its partners. Green infrastructure uses vegetation, soils, and other techniques that allow natural storage, use and infiltration of stormwater in urban areas. Practices include biorentention ponds and swales, permeable pavers and concrete, planter boxes, rain gardens and green roofs.

Pedestrian improvement projects on State Street between Glenwood and Collister and between Willow Lane and Veterans Memorial Parkway include green stormwater infrastructure. Curbs, gutters, and sidewalks have been added, but instead of installing stormwater pipes to carry the water away, the runoff from State Street is directed via notches cut in the curb (curb cuts) to sandy areas where the stormwater soaks in. The sandy areas are two to three feet in depth and the sand removes sediment from the stormwater as it soaks into the ground.

roadside sand filters

Curb cuts and retention area on State St. Photo Liz Paul

Partnering for a Stormwater First

ACHD and Boise Parks and Recreation teamed up to install green stormwater infrastructure during construction of the Royal Blvd. extension on Capitol Street just south of the river.  Stormwater flows off the new roadway and parts of 9th St. and Capitol Blvd. into drop inlets in the gutters where it’s piped into three bioretention planter basins. The basins are 6 1/2′ wide and 4’deep. The two on the south are 25’long and the one on the north is 150′ long. It’s a first-of-its-kind project that will use a custom Bioretention Soil Mix and plants specially selected by ACHD to survive periodic floods of polluted stormwater. Species include maiden grass, hyssop, cone flowers, black-eyed susan and perennial grasses.

bioretention planter

Stormwater bioretention planter on Royal Blvd.

Cooperation Benefits the Boise River and the Economy

Stormwater management requirements for new development and major redevelopment in dense urban areas like downtown Boise can drive development to city edges and fuel sprawl. Thanks to a groundbreaking agreement between Boise and ACHD, developers will find it much easier to meet requirements and less polluted stormwater will discharge to the Boise River.

The new coooperative stormwater paradigm is playing out on Broad St. between 2nd St and Capitol Blvd. where ACHD, Boise and Capital City Development Corporation (CCDC) have reached agreement on installation and maintenance of stormwater facilities in the public right-of-way.

Broad St torn upTo you it just looks like a mess, but the carefully engineered infrastructure being built below the street and sidewalks is a radical departure that will enhance the Boise River.


Broad St. will be crowned to direct flow to permeable pavers in the parking lanes and to pocket bio-swales and infiltration planters. Stormwater from private property will discharge via roof drains to trees planted in special suspended pavement systems (Silva Cells) along the sidewalk. Capacity is being created to serve existing buildings without onsite retention and future development. This is known as “green turnkey” and will allow new developers to satisfy stormwater management regulations automatically.

The delays and detours are a small price to pay for a cleaner Boise River.