Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Good News Concerning Henry’s Fork Winter Flows

The Henry’s Fork Foundation (HFF) released their monthly newsletter (the Monthly Hatch, get it here) with an update on the winter flows out of Box Canyon Dam. As noted previously by Jim Fredericks, the flows on the Henry’s Fork have increased, due in part to a slight decrease of the flows on the South Fork.

The Railroad Ranch.

This is particularly good news for the Henry’s Fork. The flow increase was ratified on January 2nd and the gates opened on January 3rd. The flows are now up to somewhere between 180 and 200 cfs (the newsletter article notes that the USGS readings, which you can find here, are incorrect and that the sensor needs to be recalibrated). Flows at this level are conducive to maintaining the population of juvenile trout in the Box Canyon and Railroad Ranch sections of the river, something that wasn’t occurring just five years ago.

The HFF newsletter notes that this increase in flows is another success story for the watershed’s drought management planning process, which provides a seat at the table for Idaho Fish and Game, HFF, and other conservation organizations. However, it should be noted that while these organizations have a voice in the decision-making process, they do not control the vote. Those votes belong to the irrigators. And the irrigators made the initial decision to increase the flows in October, when the water situation in Eastern Idaho looked particularly dire. Yes, you read that correctly. The irrigators came together when the water situation looked almost untenable and decided to increase the flows in a manner that benefited the trout. From the newsletter:

“Last October's decision by the irrigators to agree to release 180 cfs was, with Snake River basin storage levels virtually bottomed out, remarkable. Two months Later, we've had some good rain and snow, but the basin-wide water situation is still marginal. The irrigators' vote to ratify the October drought management planning agreement, made by people whose livelihoods, and those of the farmers that they represent, depend on irrigation water, illustrates the fact that we have come a long way in a relatively short time.”

Maybe because this is election season, and everyone in politics seems all to eager to push someone else down a steep hill, this type of coordination and compromise is particularly heartening. I think it is important to give credit to the Fremont-Madison Irrigation District, who have been instrumental in the success of the river over the past few years and shattered more than a few preconceived notions about farmers and water (mine included). This situation is also an example of why the Henry’s Fork Foundation is a model conservation organization that is able to view issues from multiple perspectives and consider the needs of everyone involved rather than just their own agenda.

If you would like to donate to or join the HFF, go to their website.

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