Snake River Stewardship Program

The Snake River plays a vital role in providing electricity to Idaho Power’s 525,000-plus customers throughout southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. A healthy Snake River also benefits all other users: irrigators, recreationists, fishery managers and wildlife.

Idaho Power is committed to preserving the Snake River’s ability to provide clean water and clean power to our region for future generations. As part of that commitment, Idaho Power has proposed the Snake River Stewardship Program; a program that will address the causes of elevated water temperatures and other water quality concerns.

Why is Idaho Power proposing the Snake River Stewardship Program?

Idaho Power has applied for a new long-term federal license to operate the Hells Canyon Complex (HCC) – Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon dams. One requirement is to address the temperature of water flowing out of Hells Canyon Dam. In the summer, water temperatures rise as the Snake River flows through southern Idaho before reaching Brownlee Reservoir. During a brief period in the fall, water leaving the HCC is warmer than the standard for protecting Snake River Fall Chinook spawning. Because the causes of elevated water temperatures are best addressed through watershed restoration, Idaho Power has proposed the Snake River Stewardship Program (SRSP) as part of the relicensing process.

What is the Snake River Stewardship Program?

The SRSP is a watershed-scale restoration program that will increase shade and water velocity, decrease water temperatures and aquatic algae proliferation, and provide improved habitat. Idaho Power is collaborating with The Freshwater Trust, a nonprofit organization with offices in Idaho and Oregon. The Freshwater Trust has experience in restoring and protecting freshwater ecosystems.

The three components of the program are:

  • In-stream projects, that include creation of floodplains and wetlands, designed to reduce water surface area, increase water velocity, and increase channel depths. This will reduce the surface area exposed to heating, decrease algal mats, and improve habitat.
  • Restoring native vegetation along key tributaries of the Snake River. This will shade sections of these waterways, provide more diverse fish and wildlife habitat and help prevent sediment and pollutants from entering the water.
  • Sediment reduction from agricultural irrigation in a key section of the Snake River will help protect in-stream projects and improve water quality.

What has Idaho Power done to date?

  • Construction of the Bayha Island Research Project was completed in November, 2016. This project was designed to narrow and deepen a section of the Snake River channel by creating approximately 10 acres of floodplain adjacent to Bayha and Wright islands, increasing water velocity and decreasing heating by reducing the surface area.
  • A streambank restoration pilot project along the Powder River in Hells Canyon began in the fall of 2016 with the planting of several rows of native plants and the installation of irrigation equipment.
  • Idaho Power has implemented a pilot program in the Grand View, Idaho, area to convert flood irrigation to pressurized irrigation. This will reduce the amount of sediment and nutrients entering the Snake River. Approximately 1,000 acres of cropland has been converted to sprinkler irrigation.

What is Idaho Power planning for the future?

Idaho Power is planning riparian research projects in the Powder River basin in eastern Oregon and the Weiser River basin in western Idaho. These basins flow into the Snake River and into Brownlee Reservoir. Idaho Power is also evaluating the feasibility of implementing another island research project in the Snake River in 2019.

How do I learn more?

The links to the left have additional project information. If you have questions, comments, would like to participate in our program, or would like to speak to someone about the program, please contact our team at riverproject@idahopower.com, or call 208-465-6831.