Ask Zimo: Water's hard to come by no matter how you manage it

June 6, 2013 

Q: I read that flows in the South Fork of the Boise River were to remain at 1,600 cfs into August.

I was told that after irrigation, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is managing Lucky Peak Reservoir as a priority for recreation, thus sacrificing Anderson Ranch and Arrowrock reservoirs.

I am concerned about this strategy and will contact the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Bureau of Reclamation. It's a bad idea for many reasons:

- Higher temps in a lower reservoir in August would be harmful to the trout fishery below the dam.

- It would cause real problems next year should we have another bad water year.

- The higher water temperatures in the reservoir could cause fish kills there.

- A large drawdown of Anderson Ranch Reservoir could make it difficult for kokanee and bull trout to enter the upper South Fork.

This seems like a pretty big issue to me - fish vs. water skiing.

ERIC ODEN, email

A: With last winter's snowpack at 71 percent of normal in the Boise River Basin, I don't envy water managers trying to balance this year's dismal water supply to satisfy irrigation demands, anglers and boaters and the needs of fish and wildlife.

The last I checked, Arrowrock Reservoir was 55 percent full, Anderson Ranch, 69 percent and Lucky Peak, 97 percent. In good water years, they'd be full this time of year and stay that way for a while.

I went to Brian Sauer, a hydrologist with the Bureau of Reclamation with your question.

"We're drafting Anderson Ranch earlier this year because we need the water," he said. "We could wait until later and make much higher releases, but the higher flows would impact fishing and floating on the South Fork, and also reduce our overall hydropower production at Anderson Ranch."

Sauer said Anderson Ranch is the agency's largest reservoir in the basin, but it's also the hardest to refill.

The South Fork usually doesn't produce as much water as the Middle Fork, he said, so the agency only drafts it when they have to in dry years like this.

"We don't want to pull Arrowrock down too far either," he said. Arrowrock Reservoir also has bull trout, so water levels and temps are a concern there as well.

As for Lucky Peak Reservoir, Sauer said, recreation also will take a hit because water managers will probably begin drafting it fairly quickly in mid- to late-July to meet downstream water demands.

Sauer said that because of the dry winter and spring, the Boise River Basin reservoirs are filling to the lowest reservoir levels during spring since 2001.

It's going to be a tough water season. We're already losing Little Camas Reservoir for fishing.

We never did have a decent float season on the Owyhee River, and the Bruneau River wasn't much better.

RUNNING THE WEISER

Q: I've been rafting for about 10 years now and have done almost every permitted river in Idaho.

Last spring, my buddies and I rafted the Owyhee, which was a great experience. Not wanting to take any time off work this spring, we've decided to try floating the Weiser River.

I've read your articles and watched your video of the day trip you took a year or two ago. I know that the maintained trail runs along the stretch that you floated and that there are some picnic and restroom stops.

The question I have for you was whether there are any good camping spots along the way, that a group of 10 or so could use for the night?

We are mostly just wanting to get away and camp, the rafting is just a bonus.

I've looked for maps of the area and haven't been able to find one. Any help would be appreciated.

SHAD DURFEE, email

A: The 22-mile stretch of Weiser River through the canyon between Midvale and Galloway Dam had an earlier season this year.

Flows came up this spring and the river was running pretty good all of April and May. It quickly dropped to around 600 cfs this week, which is too low for small rafts. During some years in June the river could still be running 3,000 to 4,000 cfs.

I imagine you can still do it in an inflatable kayak, but it would be a slow and long self-support trip. If you're going to do it next year during higher flows, here's the scoop on camping.

There's a small picnic and camping area about halfway down the river, which has a porta potty. It's at Thousand Springs Creek (milepost 21.7).

My thought is that if you're going to float this section, you might want to take a portable river toilet. That way you can camp any place you find suitable, as long as it's on the west side of the river where the Weiser River Trail is located.

In a pinch, you could set up tents right on the trail, which is a dirt road, as long as you leave space for trail users. Don't camp on private land.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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