Rocky Barker: Time to celebrate Boise’s reservoirs

September 16, 2013 

0418 out andersonmain

Anderson Ranch Reservoir is wide open for boating, and lures anglers and waterskiers.


The rains of September have softened the blow of the early shutoff of irrigation canals in the Treasure Valley.

The thousands of residents who water their lawns and gardens with water from the canals have not had to tap as much into their municipal supply, which is relatively costly. Farmers who had not adjusted their growing plans this year around the forecasted early cutoff have been rewarded with an additional couple of weeks of growth.

Best of all, the reservoirs on the Boise River that have allowed this valley to develop are beginning to fill as we head into an uncertain winter. Cultures throughout the world celebrate the harvest season. This year, Boise Valley residents are celebrating the water season and the dam and canal irrigation system that has made our lives possible.

The Boise Project Board of Control, which manages 85 percent of the water stored in Arrowrock and Anderson Ranch reservoirs, and Idaho Rivers United, a group that advocates free-flowing rivers, will celebrate 150 years of irrigation in a free event from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Boise150 Sesqui-Shop, 1008 W Main St., Boise.

The two organizations don’t always agree on how to manage the river today — whether we need to build more storage reservoirs or dramatically increase water conservation. But they both agree that we share the blessings of food, fish and wildlife, electricity, recreation and a healthy economy that come from this irrigation system that snakes through the valley.

“We need to appreciate the tremendous investment that’s been made to move the cold, clean water of the Boise River throughout the Valley, and support the irrigators who are adopting water practices to increase efficiency,” said Liz Paul, an Idaho Rivers United spokeswoman.

This remarkable irrigation system was the vision of engineer Arthur Foote, who tried and failed to build it with private money. His story, and the story of his gifted wife, writer Mary Hallock Foote, is loosely told in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Wallace Stegner, “Angle of Repose.”

Arthur Foote’s dream was realized only after the federal Bureau of Reclamation partnered with local irrigators and others to build Diversion Dam, the New York Canal, Lake Lowell and Arrowrock and Anderson Ranch reservoirs. After a flood in 1943, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers convinced Congress to build Lucky Peak for flood control.

The reservoirs have not only helped us through a very dry irrigation season, but in 2010 prevented massive flooding that would have done hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage.

“The major swings in water availability over the last several years are a clear demonstration that Boise would have been ravaged by floods during the higher precipitation years and would have suffered economy-killing drought during the less-than-adequate precipitation years,” said Tim Page, Boise Board of Control watermaster.

The Corps and the Idaho Water Resource Board are studying whether it is feasible to raise the Arrowrock Dam and Reservoir or whether other efforts, like water conservation or expanding and restoring wetlands, will meet the needs of the Valley for the next 100 years. Page supports more storage while Paul encourages other alternatives.

But there is a season for debate and a season for celebration. Lift a cold glass of water to Arthur Foote and the others whose work and vision has turned our valley green and kept our river flowing.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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