by Idaho State Journal Staff
BOISE — The Upper Blackfoot River Initiative for Conservation has completed stream restoration projects on Diamond Creek and Lanes Creek, the first of many projects the group plans to undertake to help restore the Upper Blackfoot River fishery.
Early in the year, UBRIC completed a watershed assessment to prioritize its efforts.
“It is important that we focus on those projects that will do the most good. In coordination with state and federal resource agencies, we decided that projects on Diamond Creek and Lanes Creek could make an immediate difference for the trout,” said Monsanto’s Jeff Klieve in a news release.
Idaho’s Upper Blackfoot River has historically supported thriving populations of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout and is a prized fishery. Over the years, some of the key river habitat has degraded and fish populations have declined.
One of the challenges for the fish is irrigation diversion structures that prevent the fish from migrating into the tributaries to spawn.
Those structures can also divert fish into irrigation ditches where they die. Some of these older diversion structures were on Diamond and Lanes Creeks.
Last Spring, UBRIC approached the Bear Lake Grazing Company, which owns and operates the structures, to see if they would be willing to install new fish-friendly diversion weirs.
The landowners readily agreed.
“The UBRIC partners have been great to work with,” said Joan Bunderson, managing partner of the Bear Lake Grazing Co. board. “The work went very quickly and there was minimal disturbance of our cattle operation. The end result was improved fish habitat and an improved irrigation system. It was a ‘win-win’ situation for everyone. We appreciated working with them.”
With supplemental funding and technical support from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, UBRIC replaced concrete barriers with V-Weirs, which create a more natural look and flow in the stream.
“The weirs are constructed with boulders placed in the streambed. They effectively divert flow into irrigation ditches, but don’t block upstream fish migration like the old concrete and timber structures did,” said Rob Masonis, vice president of Western Conservation at Trout Unlimited.
In addition, new fish screens will keep fish out of the irrigation ditches.
Alan Prouty of Simplot believes the benefits from these projects will be evident soon.
“We fully expect to see more fish in the tributaries and fewer lost in irrigation ditches next year,” he said.
The UBRIC partners are working with other landowners and state and federal agencies to design additional restoration projects for the coming year.
“It is impressive what we can accomplish when we work together,” said Justin Hayes, program director for the Idaho Conservation League. “And the river is better for it.”
UBRIC is a voluntary partnership among JR Simplot Company, Monsanto, Agrium/Nu-West Industries, the Idaho Conservation League and Trout Unlimited to restore the health of the Upper Blackfoot and its tributaries.
The members of this innovative partnership share their resources and expertise to complete projects that improve water quality and fish habitat.
Originally published in the Idaho State Journal